My Merlin Awakening
Book 2, My Merlin Series

Priya Ardis

Ink Lion Books

My Merlin Awakening
Book 2, My Merlin Series Rise of the Fisher King

Table Of Contents
Prologue CHAPTER 1 – HOME CHAPTER 2 – THE WORLD BECKONS CHAPTER 3 – CROSSROADS CHAPTER 4 – A HAUNTED HOUSE CHAPTER 5 – NYMPH’S LURE CHAPTER 6 – CHOICES CHAPTER 7 – THE ATTACK CHAPTER 8 – ATHENS CHAPTER 9 – A DARK DANCE CHAPTER 10 – GHOST CITY CHAPTER 11 – HOLDING ON CHAPTER 12 – THE PILLARS OF HERCULES CHAPTER 13 – MERMAIDS CHAPTER 14 – CHAMPION CHAPTER 15 – THE LONG DARK CHAPTER 16 – THE LION CHAPTER 17 – THE WHITE BULL CHAPTER 18 – TIGER, TIGER CHAPTER 19 – SACRIFICE CHAPTER 20 – AWAKENING EVER MY MERLIN About the Author Author’s Note

My Merlin Awakening. Copyright © 2012 by Priyanka Ardis. Cover art by Claudia McKinney, Phatpuppy Art. Cover photo by Y. Sjøvik. Cover model is J. Mathisen. Cover design by Kat Balwin, Ink Lion Books. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical without the author's express written permission. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without permission is prohibited. This novel is a work of fiction. Any references to real people or real locations are used fictitiously. Any references to historical events are used fictitiously. Characters, names, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual incidents or persons is coincidental. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

Published by: Ink Lion Books, LLC http://inklionbooks.com Visit the author website: http://www.priyaardis.com ISBN-13: 978-0-9848339-1-7 ISBN-10: 0984833919

Version 2012.06.16

I would like to thank my brilliant cover designer. at Ink Lion Books. Thank you to my family and friends for their incredible support. I wasn’t sure what to expect and to find those who enjoy the Merlin stories has been a true blessing. Kat B.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS A big sloppy thank you to the readers who have encouraged me to write the second installment of this series. for her wonderful polish and Wes M. to the Brontes. When I went out with the first book. Finally. and fabulous cover artist Claudia M. for his pointed insight in refining the story. may they forever haunt the Moors! . There are also a great many who have worked in the background to make this book happen. at Phatpuppy Art. I would like to thank my editors—Teri “The Editing Fairy” G. It means everything.

a flutter of brightly gowned nobles. My name is Merlin. Arthur stood on top of a small hill. surrounded by a hundred or so knights in chainmail.Prologue PROLOGUE Everything I had worked for. and a . The future was upon me. planned. schemed and generally manipulated into being I saw coming together.

the whole square echoed with a ferocious sound of victory. crushed leaves with such precise movements of his jerkin boots that they could only emit silent screams. as he’d long ago dubbed himself. but no one had ever succeeded. the first volley of an erupting wave. Our time has come. Most creatures rarely got a chance to emit more around Vane. yet they still gasped when it happened. one commoner shouted out a cheer. Finally. . It was a certain coldness in my brother’s gaze. It was what the crowd had been waiting for. But it was not this that bothered me.” I corrected him. if only for its monetary value as much as its mystery. He pulled Excalibur from the stone. I pulled my hood around me and sank back into the trees. It had been all but forgotten by the kingdom. The burdensome gloom that had settled in the air gave way to a burgeoning sense of expectation. Until today. The prince had. they all watched their new king with awe. Their savior had arrived. Vivane.” “Will come. “Why do you stand in the shadows? We no longer need to hide our magic. just hours after the death of King Uther. or Vane. With whisper-soft footfalls. white oak tree for so long it had passed into legend. Within moments. but nothing happens overnight. The kingdom would know about me soon enough. Vane stopped just beside me. “So it is done. The fever of it shone in the eyes of everyone from the kingdom’s most faithful knights down to the smallest child. which disturbed me my entire life. A man had occasionally tried his hand to pull out the glimmering metal. I turned to look behind me.mass of commoners in plain brown and gray. Arthur has promised to integrate us back into the kingdom. The sword had been sitting outside the castle of Camelot under a great. Under a banner of crimson red and glorious white. pulled the sword from its resting place—and the fate of the whole kingdom changed in an instant.” A shadowy figure came through the clearing.

He always had to have the last word.” I twisted to face him. He would not have passed the trial.” Vane didn’t answer. “Then why did you help me with Arthur? Without you.“Are you sure he is not too old?” “Arthur is but twenty-eight.” “I realize this. Whoever removes it determines the course of our future. “The Lady said we would not know the future until the sword had been lifted.” I put a hand on the weathered trunk of a thick tree. Arthur held up a hand to stay the knight. He is the bridge between us. forming a barrier around Arthur. The kindness of the action rekindled my hope. Its rough edges scraped my fingers. His attention fixed on Arthur and moved just to the right of the new king. It had been like that since we were children.” “You put too much faith in her. A young boy broke through the barrier of knights.” “The bridge? You have no idea what that actually means. “She promised us a greater destiny. “That’s not what I meant. I could feel the power under its coarse exterior. He kneeled down on one knee to speak to the excited lad. do you?” I ground my teeth. the commoners who’d been watching at a safe distance started to approach their new king with eager faces. He has plenty of years left. you’re forced to take her word for it. Nothing with Vane was ever easy. A young woman. “He will bring us out of the shadows. One knight rushed to catch the boy. You will see.” He was referring to whether Arthur was too old to change. In the square. he would have never have had the skill to pull out the sword.” Vane snorted. They started to shepherd him back inside the main castle keep. dressed in a fine . “And since you’ve had no visions beyond what happened today.” I said to convince myself as much as him. It didn’t take long for the knights of Camelot to also come out of their stupor. She wouldn’t lie about that. I looked at Vane.

“I sense a hint of disappointment. “She’s very much devoted to him. I felt power surging inside me.” Vane raised a brow.” Against my will. was being escorted away from the crowd.gown.” I said with measure. “Why did you help me with Arthur?” Vane’s lips curled up into a slow smile. “That should be obvious. I sighed and the power subsided instantly.” I added quickly. Vane was the only one who could make me lose control so easily. my jaw clenched. My eyes must have flashed—I was told it was a terrifying sight to see a man’s eyes glow with a blue radiance—but Vane’s only reaction was a smug expression.” “As a friend. “Who is she?” I almost groaned. I can do just that. I want to change my destiny and as a friend of the king.” . I asked again. “Guinevere. Vane frowned. “You sound as if you know her well.” “Really?” “His betrothed. Merlin.

HOME CHAPTER 1 HOME .CHAPTER 1 .

had joined the staff of ActonConcord High School during the winter break. Massachusetts. I had on thin windbreaker pants. I gnashed my teeth and rubbed my head. I wanted to go back to just being the nice girl. who’d not only gotten married during Christmas vacation. and apparently. no jacket. A lacrosse ball whacked me on the head. I wanted to go back to being me. who didn’t have to fight for every inch of space. DuLac!” Vane yelled from the sidelines. The score was ten to two—not in our favor. Vane refused to let me go back inside to retrieve it. I glared at Vane. not shooting blanks. Possibly the reason our new coach may have been so pissed. Really. Bedevere. The cap was my fault. It was sitting in my gym bag inside the heated locker room. All I wanted to do was put on a smile and fake it until my teeth hurt. I preferred to be curled up in bed with a book. or Dr. Vivane Northe. it was possible to know too much about your teachers. “Wake up. . If only I knew what “me” meant anymore. and no warm cap. rather than standing in the middle of a field on a bone-chilling winter day in Concord. my European History teacher. Vane. Her new husband was our Physics teacher. All in all. Of course. a wool cap. I turned to glare at the perpetrator. clutching an icy lacrosse stick. He wore navy blue sweatpants. and a matching blue hoodie.I was tired of being real. I wanted to go back to a time when everything was simple. but was now expecting a kid. who didn’t have to remember to breathe. a short energetic man. He’d taken over the position left by Ms. I wanted to go back to that person who didn’t need to question everything.

Ryan. the boys’ football coach. How had I wound up dating such a psycho? Not that Vane was the only mental case out today. My side wore practice jerseys of blue and yellow. Vane was into torture. but I didn’t. had also thrown his players into the frosty milieu. Another girl on my team grabbed the ball and started weaving through the opposition toward the goal. It was the only explanation for making the team practice outside in the middle of winter. I wasn’t the sort… Unfortunately. We were deep into February. in the middle of the field. On the field next to us. but kept to the outside. Obviously. the other team wearing red and black. Bitterly harsh wind that chilled New England at this time of year slapped against our backs with relentless persistence. and we faced several more months of sheer cold. enough snow had been cleared to reveal sludgy mud and crunchy grass. This snow looked about as attractive as the black-tarred stuff that lined the edges of the roads all over town.Vane smirked back at me as if he knew exactly what I was thinking and had zero sympathy. “Stop daydreaming and pick up the pace. keeping just behind her.” I wanted to take the ball and hit him in the face. I saw . not to be outdone by the girls’ coach. Vane had divided the lacrosse team for the scrimmage. The romance of Christmas had worn off. I ran. But here. I turned back to face the girls on the other team and forced myself to concentrate. I was a little shocked to realize I didn’t even know how many girls were playing. My name is Arriane Morganne Brittany DuLac—you can imagine why I chose to go by Ryan instead. Mounds of untouched snow sat at the edges of the lacrosse field.

Luckily. “Move your ass!” Beside me. My eyes narrowed. waving her stick in the air. My lungs stretched in my chest until it hurt. but somehow. but I hooked the stick and shot the ball forward to her. The ball slammed into the top of the post. I wanted time to miss Alexa. The other team blocked the goal with a solid defense line.my brother Grey’s brown hair bobbing around in the throng of boys in sweatpants and muscle-clinging spandex thermal shirts. My sister deserved to be mourned. but stood at an odd angle. Without ever glancing my way. Anger proved to be the impetus that forced my tired legs to battle against an invisible enemy of lady winter. The ball landed with a solid thwack into the net of my stick. it went down instead of out and sailed into the goal. Newly up from junior-varsity. a girl giggled at Vane’s harassment. She caught it and sent it flying to the goal. I pushed and pulled myself ahead of my team. Another teammate jumped up and down. Ramanajan. Ramanajan. A linebacker of a girl tried to intercept the ball. jogging parallel to us on the sidelines. she’d taken over the vacant spot Alexa left… which would have been okay. I had a good shot at the goal. It was a risk. We all held our breaths. had the ball in her lacrosse stick and ran in place as she tried to find a hole. a slender girl with long. She was a little closer to the goal. using my shoulder to block as I leaped up and raised my lacrosse stick. had she not played it so well. I wasn’t ready to just move on. DuLac!” Vane yelled. “Get to the front. . black braids. she lobbed the ball straight at me. but I edged her out. I still stayed on the outside.

Christine hit my back with another hard slap.” “Thanks. good pass. she walked away from me to high-five a few of the other girls.On the sidelines. but I heard the exclamation points. Vane made a reply.” Quickly. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have said… well.” I said. Oh. The linebacker girl whom I’d blocked to get to the goal thumped my back.” . and deadly-but-hot looks. “We all miss her. The team surrounded him. DuLac. who was still on the sideline just behind us. “Good call. let’s get inside before we turn into ice. I ordered those foam boards like you wanted. She grinned. Vane blew the whistle. Vane did have a Bond-esque quality to which no one seemed immune. “How are we ever going to get through the season when all they want to do is drool over Coach 007?” I grimaced. Ramanajan ran up to me and bumped shoulders. I blinked hard to restrain the suffusion of emotion that hovered just behind my eyelids. Scrimmage was over. Ryan. I stared out at the quiet field. She sobered. Just like I watched you and Alexa play—” Ramanajan cut off when my smile faltered. Ryan. “I put in my vote for you. Ramanajan put a hand on his bicep and squeezed. Between his British accent.” I said. I forced a smile. “Ugh. “Who knew prom would be so much work?” Christine was on the planning committee with me. “Come on. I couldn’t hear what they were saying to him.” Christine said. I glanced at Vane. which caused the girls to squeal with laughter. My eyes narrowed. lean-muscled physique. Christine.” “Good.

take this back to the locker room. His breath hot in my face. “We’re here to practice. You’re not taking any of them. “What was that? You had a clear shot at the goal.” Vane came up behind us with the rest of the team in tow. DuLac. You are their leader. The girls who had been heading quickly towards the gym slowed to a crawl and looked at me curiously. Why didn’t you take it?” My feet turned inward. I didn’t want to be any sort of queen. British-speak for “Stand still while I yell at you.” I said between clenched teeth. I really didn’t want to be prom queen.” Chat. hang on. What could I say that he would understand? I had been trained by Vane to be a leader. DuLac. but gave Vane a beatific smile that bordered on simpering. Coach. A gust of frosty wind spurred us to hurry. Act like one. She grunted at its unexpected weight. “You know my name?” He gave her a brief nod.I groaned. a champion. “You aren’t taking all the shots. Her smile widened. That’s the problem. let’s chat. he growled.” He handed Christine a bulky duffel bag. but I didn’t feel like one. A picture of a sword embedded in stone flashed in my mind. I had just gotten . I wasn’t sure what to say. I started walking slowly back toward the gym with her. I chewed my lip. Vane’s lips curved up into a cold smile. The top of my head only reached his shoulders. Vane grabbed me.” I didn’t reply. I winced. right? How can the rest of the team do that if I’m taking all the shots?” Vane leaned his face down to mine. and the irony of the statement didn’t escape me. “Bowler. “DuLac.” “Yes. “Bowler.

Show them you’re the champions you’ve already proven yourselves be. “I know it’s difficult losing a team member and your coach almost at the same time. He looked at the rest of the team. We were first place in our division last term. Ramanajan and Christine turned around to look at Vane and me first.” “Twelve to eleven. Playing here is not just about winning a few games. Vane continued. She beamed a wide smile at him. To have a chance at scholarships. The rest of the team followed their lead. The slender girl jumped slightly. We must have been talking loudly because the other girls stopped pretending to be going back to the gym and halted completely. you’ve made captain. but we can’t dwell on that. Remember? You haven’t picked a new one.lucky. There is no reason why we can’t do it again… if you can keep focused. and I will bench you. Many of you are graduating. Our old coach would have it straightened out by now. “What do you say. “We’re adjusting. DuLac. This is about your future.” “Fine isn’t good enough for co-captain.” I said. you need to keep your eyes on the target. I shot him an angry look. DuLac?” . They returned his gaze like a pack of abused dogs—eager to please with a dash of fear.” Vane rounded on me. “Congratulations. “I did fine in our last game. You are varsity. We lost the game. We lost our captain.” I huffed.” “Ramanajan!” Vane barked. “Play like you did today.” Vane looked at her. There are plenty of others ready to take your spot if you can’t straighten up.

Most of the room was bereft of any decoration. The basement room reminded me of a dungeon. letting in a bit of sun. A thin teacher’s desk looked barren at the front.” Vane said. High windows surrounded the top of the classroom. He stood looking out across the empty field with a pensive expression.” I shivered as another blast of arctic air raced across the open field and leveled us. There were usually one or two who hung around just outside in . Vane didn’t stop me again as I half expected him to. Cheap plywood desk-and-chair combos took up most of the space. “Good. I was more pathetic that anyone else on the team. I promise you I won’t rest until that is so. *** It took me a few minutes to shower after practice. but not enough to lighten the dreary interior. “We can’t lose if we can just figure out how to work together again. I was the first to get to History.” Ramanajan said quickly. “Coach is right. they huddled together against the cold and ran inside. As your captain. Arms linked. The team didn’t need more prompting. I had to resist the urge to walk over and put a hand against the hard cheekbones of his face. I shook my head. I followed. I turned around to glance at him. When it came to Vane. I had the feeling he wasn’t thinking about lacrosse.” I mumbled.“I’ll try.” Vane gave her a brisk nod. The other girls were still congratulating Ramanajan when I hurried out of the locker room. The classroom filled quickly as students rushed to beat the bell. “Everyone inside. his dark-blonde eyebrows furrowed.

despite it being the only Euro-History class. “Who’s done their reading?” Almost every single hand in the classroom went up. Since my brother . The majority of the class was. Grey and three of his buddies sat in the back. I forced myself to lower mine. The sharp ring of the bell sounded. barely half the room had been full. He asked without turning. of course. “Ah. Now. you’re all here. but his buddies had raised theirs. I glanced behind me at Grey and raised a brow at my brother’s taciturn expression. over the month. every desk had a student and I knew there was a waiting list of several students if a space opened up. Everyone sat and waited for the teacher. A couple of people peeked in from the hallway. he wrote “Ancient Greece” on the blank chalkboard. They were teachers on their off period. Grey’s hand was not up. And by the way they stared at Vane with such intense concentration. but not this class. No one was particularly surprised that our teacher was late. I glanced around the packed room. I heard footsteps pound down the corridor. then a titter of voices from the lingering teachers in the hall before Vane entered the classroom. girls. Many of the other boys who had originally been in the class had. transferring to other classes as their girlfriends persuaded them to give up their space. With white chalk. Vane slammed his bag down on the floor beside the teacher’s desk. as if it were a surprise. Bedevere was teaching Advanced Placement European History. We waited.the hallway until the bell forced them in. When Ms. I doubted if a space was going to open up anytime soon. They were the only boys left. disappeared bit by bit.” Vane said.

Bedevere already covered this. but it surprised him that I had. Vane turned around. DuLac?” If I could have sunk any lower into my seat I would have. he held on. I don’t know why. “You may do that once you’ve actually built up a basic foundation.didn’t have a girlfriend. Total flakes didn’t get elected student president.” Vane glanced at the class. in fact. and didn’t seem inclined to get one anytime soon. Hence. read the assignment. she did. His eyes fixed on Grey.” “Indeed. He also wanted to keep a close eye on Vane.” He leveled Grey with a sardonic look. “Well. it seems that none of you were able to answer any questions in this area. Vane looked at me. Ragnar?” “Aren’t we supposed to be on World War I or something? The AP tests aren’t that far away. He clearly was not expecting me to actually know the dates. not just question them.” Vane blinked. but showing weakness in front of Vane wasn’t an option. we shall be going back to address these holes. when I gave you the pop quiz last week. I happened to be a history nerd. However. about thirty-five hundred years ago. “Don’t like the Greeks. “Who can tell me the date of the great volcanic eruption on the Greek island of Thera?” A wheezy girl in the front coughed and stuck her hand up in the air. She beat the twenty other girls whose hands were also held high. Ms. And I expect you to complete your assignments. Plus. Why else would I . They all watched him with alert eyes. “The estimated date was said to be somewhere between 1630 BC and 1600 BC.

“What is the date estimate based on?” Vane asked. “One event that changed the world as we know it. He didn’t say anything.” Vane nodded. Ramanajan. He didn’t seem at all out of place in our time despite being cryogenically frozen in a cave for more than fifteen hundred years. not I. Makes you wonder. Some people had that ability. who sat behind me. the center of the Minoan civilization about sixty-eight miles away. Of course. The Minoans never recovered from the eruption. DuLac.” I said. The staff of Acton-Concord was startled when the new lacrosse coach took over a history class. but I found myself holding my breath in anticipation. doesn’t it? . “Carbon dating of an olive tree found under the lava flow. their strongholds fell and the Greek city-states such as Athens. In less than fifty or so years. I couldn’t come up with anything cuttingly clever on the spot. he sat on the edge and stared at the class for a minute. “The eruption was so large. a tsunami hundreds of feet high devastated the northern coast of the island of Crete. The combination of razor-sharp wit (completely real) and his credentials (completely fake) had won them over in the end. Vane raised a brow. Coming around his desk. cleared her throat.” “What city was on Thera?” “Akrotiri. “Clearly you’ve read your assignment. a Minoan settlement. “What did the eruption also cause?” I opened my mouth to answer.be interested in a guy born in the year 519? I met Vane’s steady gaze. Sparta. I glared at Vane. and Argos came into power. Shall we allow someone else to answer?” My cheeks heating.

along with all the other crazies. crashing into the middle of London. “However while we wait for the world to change. I looked down at my desk. only the size of pickup truck. After his announcement. Just the appearance of King Arthur’s sword had caused a storm of excitement. created an impact wave that caused the whole world to experience the tremor. can change in the blink of an eye?” He didn’t look at me. The class stared back at him. The news had labeled it the “Total Tremor.How everything we know. no one could explain the appearance of the sword. even the way we live. What we’d actually done had been a lot crazier than they could have imagined. Matt had apparently been carted away in a straightjacket. Vane grabbed some papers on his desk and shuffled through them. “M” was for Merlin. The whole world had literally trembled when a giant stone holding King Arthur’s sword suddenly poofed into existence.” Several months later. Nor could anyone scientifically figure out how a rock. I have your . “M” was for magic. “M” was for Matt. but I knew his words were directed straight at me. Two girls in front of me turned their heads and gave me a pitying look. speculation. Matt Emrys. People also thought it hilarious that Grey and I had supposedly both stood in line to try to pull the sword from the stone. and fear. my sort-of-ex-boyfriend who was formerly considered the hottest guy at Acton-Concord High. It did change the world. No one wanted to say the “M” word. had gone off the deep end and declared on international news that he was Merlin.

I stared at the paper. From the marks. “But if one piece of the legend is true. Taking a cue from Vane’s playbook. It’ll upset Mr.” Uncrossing long. Vane came up to my desk. DuLac. for once. it makes you question the rest. I lifted my hand. “And someone even pulled the sword. I raised my eyes to meet his dark brown ones. He’s always been a little… delicate. I can tell that many of you have already left for mid-winter break.” I couldn’t help it. I debated kicking Vane in the shin. He laid the paper down on the desk instead. A few of the girls actually giggled in excitement when he handed them their papers. for him to drop the quiz onto. Vane chuckled softly. “Grey. Northe—” Vane interjected smoothly. Without looking up.” “You think Emrys is really Merlin?” Grey asked from the back of the room.quizzes from last time. lean legs.” Delicate. he started passing out the quizzes. careful and . You’re the only one who managed to answer the date of King Arthur’s death correctly. I refused to give in to the urge to look at him.” one of the girls sitting beside him hissed as she slapped a bicep. “My brother has allowed this mystery to overwhelm him. “It hasn’t been proven that he actually existed. “No.” she said. His fingers grazed my palm. but I assure you he’s receiving all the help he needs.” Hazel-brown irises deepened. “Decent showing. So why not King Arthur?” the wheezy girl from the front said.” “Pulling the sword didn’t make him king…” I started. “Don’t talk about him. “Hasn’t it?” “The sword and the stone falling out of nowhere proved that part of the legend existed. palm up.

For a direct descendant of the ancient Romans.” He patted my head.” That left one last group of people who saw the news broadcast. The whole thing had been covered up—sort of. With a Cheshire cat smile. it seemed odd that Vane was spending so much time on Greece. Vane wanted to dismiss it like it meant nothing. For once. Vane walked off toward another student.” He looked at the rest of the students. Something only Vane would have dared. “I want to make sure you realize your full potential.plotting Matt had done the unthinkable. The reporters in the media room who had actually seen Matt do magic also had their memories “fixed. I crumpled the quiz I held in my hand. you’ll need to know those questions for the test. the hallways stood . Vane raised a sardonic brow. For the first time since I’d gotten there. but you have decided to take an Advanced Placement class and the test will cover all this and more. Vane was up to something. DuLac. And that usually meant someone was about to die. All digital and analog recordings of the news feed had been altered to show Matt supposedly doing magic. The number was surprisingly small. a shiver went up my spine. Matt had done something reckless. He exposed magic to a crowd of reporters in the middle of a press announcement. naturally. I suppose it wasn’t too much of a stretch. I resisted growling at him. *** Fifteen minutes after the first lunch. but considering that I didn’t know anyone who actually watched a TV show when it came on. So. “Careful. “I know it’s second semester. The rest of the class was filled with more discussion on Greek facts and mythology.” Clenching my teeth.

one of the guys was shooting an actual commercial for a small clothing store.k. . everything in vain. My mentor happened to be Dr. the class let you explore a profession under the mentorship of an expert in the field from the community. Grey shut his laptop and put it into his backpack. We all had to come up with a project that related to what we were studying. Each table had five or six plastic. Okay. a bank owned by Grey’s mom—my adopted mom—who could write a portfolio analysis in her sleep. still in class. I had to top that. Also. but you didn’t get to be student president by being an under-achiever. the teacher only showed up on Mondays to check up on us. After the first five minutes. Vivane Northe. Large windows took up one wall. since I’d actually convinced a museum to showcase my exhibit. I was in Independent Projects. My project was to open a small exhibit at a local museum. my project was a little over-the-top. Independent Projects allowed you to leave campus for a whole two hours to do research. Eight circular tables took up the classroom. Vane. the other students started filing out until Grey and I were the only ones left. Only open to a select set of students. The Independent Projects classroom was one of the nicest rooms in the whole school. It had to be the number one reason why everyone took the class. Grey was coming up with a portfolio analysis of an investment company. Nothing without pain… I could go on. it actually opened up to the rare bit of sunlight when it graced the city.. meaning. Anyway. A. bucket-style seats. Anyone who didn’t have first lunch sat in homeroom. Grey’s mentor was a VP at Ragnar Bank.a.abandoned. I had my laptop open and typed away on a brochure I was creating. A few students sat in an empty classroom.

” Grey rushed out before I could harass him any further. “She’s at Avalon Prep. sis. I said.“You’re done?” I asked in surprise.” “Well. Grey’s air of casual arrogance matched his easy football captain-looks.” He smiled a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. can you tell her that?” Geez. He looked down at his feet. “I will.” I gave him a skeptical look. Morris slotted ten minutes for each of us. “Didn’t you just start?” “I’m meeting Joey and a couple of other guys at the sandwich shop.” “Later.” Grey gripped the back of the chair he’d been sitting on. boys could be such jerks. “Mrs.” He slung his backpack on his shoulder and got up. “We have to make a presentation on everything we’ve done next class. I can spew bull for at least fifteen. Alexa. and me from six months ago. Alexa sat in the middle with her arms around both Grey and me. Since we’d gotten back from London—where he’d almost died—Grey hadn’t been the same. I will.” Guy-speak for. Alexa’s classical face beamed with a smile that could have launched a thousand ships. I’ll come out just fine. I always do.” Grey snorted. “I plan to keep avoiding her until she gives up. I pulled up a picture on my laptop of Grey. “Have you talked to Gia? She’s left like a zillion messages. I stood slightly off to the . “Don’t worry. It’s just not a good time for us… to talk. I’m in Massachusetts. We sat on the same table across from each other.

side with a forced smile and a full set of white teeth. as Vane’s voice broke through my reverie. . “Smell something unpleasant?” I jumped. I wrinkled my nose at the stiff image of myself. I hated taking pictures. startled.

CHAPTER 2 .THE WORLD BECKONS CHAPTER 2 THE WORLD BECKONS .

” Vane’s lips tightened to suppress a smile. one sat in front of me right now.” I gave him an irritated look. He flicked my nose with a finger. “That’s the first real reaction I’ve gotten from you in a month. Exactly what Vane had been hoping.” “I didn’t like it. You haven’t helped me with anything.“What?” I said. He pulled out a bucket-seat that looked like it was meant for a five-year-old and dropped into it.” I scowled and shut the laptop. He continued. He loved any history that portrayed the downtrodden and persecuted life of wizards. Besides if I try to help. The chair strained a bit. With his usual perverse sense of humor. “You’re the worst mentor in the world. You hate it when things aren’t exactly how . “Why so hostile. “I set up the venue for your exhibit.” he said. I was sure. love?” “You whacked me on the head with a ball!” “You deserved it. and I found the whole history of the trials disturbing. he had me researching the witch trials. After all. conveniently overlooking how disgustingly wealthy many of today’s wizards had become. “I see something upsetting right now.” “I called the witch museum for you. “You’re adorable when you’re upset. except when I have my tongue down your throat. but held him. The rest is in your hands. I was one of the select few in the world who knew that wizards were real.” I said. you’ll tell me all my ideas were complete shite.

He yanked me out of my chair and onto his lap.” “When things aren’t right.you want. “Happy?” The legs of Vane’s chair slammed down. “You’ll get fired if anyone finds out about us!” “So many rules in this century. “Tell me why we’re here again? The Council asked you to return to Avalon Prep. They’re only going to hear some mumbling. The door closed shut. “Sounds convenient… for you. “Definitely. wanting to pull him closer.” I corrected him. “The bubble doesn’t allow anyone outside to hear anything inside. You are gorgeous. forming a nearly invisible bubble. “I don’t know. I muttered.” . “What are you doing?” I hissed. “What if someone sees you?” “You can talk as loudly as you want now. “Exactly.” “Sounds as if this is going to be a long conversation.” he said smugly. I don’t belong there.” The Wizard Council’s base operated out of Avalon Preparatory School. I let out a surprised squeal.” I glanced at the open door and the faint red light between that veiled us. “Have you lost your mind?” Vane nuzzled my neck. lifting the front two legs off the ground.” Vane waved his hand. A faint red light surrounded us. “I’m not a wizard.” Vane made a circle with his hand.” he muttered.” I pushed away from him. I narrowed my eyes.” “The door has a window. even as my fingers dug into muscled shoulders.” He rocked back in the tiny plastic chair.

but all the time. What is going on?” “I’m fine.” “He’s fine. “Forget about him. Vane’s eyes narrowed. burrowing into his chest. I tried not to be overwhelmed. What was I doing with Vane? Could I really handle him? He was older… in more ways than just age. I lifted my head. His eyes were filled with such naked sincerity that I had to lower mine. “Maybe. “Is that what is distracting you? My brother?” “What? No—” I bit my lip. I stared off into space. I swallowed. Finally. “My brother can take care of himself. Not just out on the field. His warmth seeped into my skin.” I jerked my head up to look at him. Our lips were barely inches apart. I was just wondering if he was all right. The tension in my shoulders eased bit-by-bit the more heat I drew. . we came. You’re distracted.” Vane said. I said. “Hence.” He pulled me closer to him and said softly into my ear.” he said harshly. My heart melted just a little. “I needed to come home.” He tucked a stray. I touched the red gemstone amulet I wore around my neck. I leaned into him. dark-blonde strand of hair behind my ear.“You’ve proven yourself more than is necessary. The one Matt had given me. But we’ve been here for over a month and you don’t seem satisfied.” Unconsciously.” Vane’s fingers tangled in my hair as he yanked me close. I turned away. Being with him was thrilling and terrifying at the same time. Steely arms wrapped around me. “You belong anywhere.

You’ve been to several games. “The gargoyles almost burned down your house. I.” “You’re exaggerating.” “It’s just a movie. not to jail me.” “We’ve been on a date. You can figure out a way.” Vane’s lips curved up. they are. “Making out on the couch doesn’t count. school. All I do is school. I would have thrown one. he said. . “It’s safer than going out. The Council charged you to protect me. they know where you are.” He snorted. Believe me. Am. house… repeat. Disguise yourself somehow. “I’m going out tonight. Instead. Nothing is going to happen if we take one night off.” “You’re a wizard. It’s not safe for you.” If I thought a tantrum would have worked with Vane. Coach—whether you like it or not. I sniffed.” “I can’t be seen out with you.” “I’m not here because they asked. “Of course. “No one is coming after me.” “No one even knows I am here. house. “You know we can’t. I pushed away from him and sat back in my chair. “I want to go on a real date. I crossed my arms and stuck my jaw out.” I scowled.” he reminded me.“How about if we go see a movie tonight?” After a pause. It’s ridiculous. Done. “You won’t even let me go to a coffee shop.” he said. My words came from deep down in my throat.” Vane looked at me like I was idiot.” The window showed a sky painted with moody shades of grey.” I didn’t think so.

Shut your eyes. He yelled past the noise of the shaking room. It seemed to tighten like a noose on me. you’re more of the tower type. Allow yourself to see it.” I jumped up and stomped my foot. “I don’t see why you’re complaining. drawing a deep breath with effort. .” “If I were to lock you up in a dungeon.“You rushed me into a van after each one! I didn’t even get to hang out with the team afterwards. Then. I was seeing what he saw through the amulet. “It’s not funny! Can’t we just pretend to be normal for one night?” He looked at me for a long minute.” Vane commented.” I broke off with a gasp as the amulet around my neck suddenly started burning. but it wouldn’t move. “Matt is having a strong vision. “Ryan!” Vane stood. the first thing I sensed was the smell of wood and earth—Matt. “Besides. Bedroom eyes beckoned me. I guarantee you would not be bored. The world trembled around me. I tried to pry it away. Trying not to blush. In the dark. Making choking sounds. “As you wish. I may as well be locked in a dungeon with the amount of freedom I have. I stood up. But we go only where I say.” I stared into Vane’s hazel eyes. Vane grabbed me by the waist and steadied me. Had he actually given in… for once? “There better be popcorn.” Vane said softly. I did get you a pint of ice cream.” I blinked. I held onto them for as long as I could. I did as he said. The room shook just as it had done during the Total Tremor.

Gia. I found out that the amulet had been made by Matt and formed a special connection between us—a connection that linked our thoughts. creating burping bubbles of steam. the scene changed to a barren chain of islands. Again. In one slingshot movement. the water pulled back and then released. Just off the coast of a tropical island. a large ruby gemstone sat embedded in a dull gold pendant.” Everything in the room had moved just a bit. A curvy billow of smoke spewed up for miles in the sky. The matching golden chain was thick and more like a rope than the light chains I was used to. Red fire and lava spewed out the sides of a tornado of smoke. No land anywhere in sight. The whole land mass rumbled as three smoke stacks blew out of the ocean and from various places on the islands. Called The Dragon’s Eye. The water boiled. unleashing a wall of water that rose and rose until I could swear it touched the sky. My laptop hovered close to the edge of the desk. The connection had been so strong that I’d wanted to gouge out the eyes of my friend. I wouldn’t have normally gone for something so medieval looking. “Tsunami. A huge explosion of smoke burst like a geyser out of the water. An ocean.Matt had presented a number of enchanted amulets and rings to me and others in a select group of students at Avalon Prep. The scene shifted. Images flooded my mind. Frantic waves in the ocean pulled and pushed in a violent tug-of-war. I turned to Vane with wide . Almost immediately. Later. Another ocean. when she had grabbed it first. I’d been drawn to this one. but this one had struck me. I opened my eyes with a snap.

Many are asking if it is the Total Tremor again. Five of them. A news report played. I clicked on a news clip about one that caused a tsunami. The bigger question is what caused it…” Vane paused the video stream. but what I saw is going to be much worse. The news clip changed to show the aftermath—scene after scene of destroyed villages and homeless people followed. South Asia. However. Then.” I rubbed my forehead. The plastic chair groaned as I dropped onto it. Vane flipped my laptop open. They seemed to be in different places all over the world. this one seems to have been on a much smaller scale.” My eyes swam with tears. “I saw erupting volcanoes on the ocean. I saw a tsunami building on the ocean. “This is what’s coming. “What happened? Another tremor?” “I don’t know. . Images of the hundred-foot high tsunami I’d seen in my head played out on the news clip. he pulled up a news site. “Merlin had a vision about the ocean?” “Where else would you have a tsunami?” I grabbed the laptop from Vane. “This is what you saw?” “No.” Vane sat me down. I punched up the term “underwater volcano” in a search engine. Just a rattling. BREAKING NEWS. Not much damage from what we have heard. A clean-shaven reporter in a tidy suit clutched an iPad and spoke from a news desk. 2004.” Vane’s gaze sharpened.eyes. it declared in bright red letters. “It happened here just moments ago and reports confirm that it seems to have happened everywhere—another tremor spanning the entire globe. With a few clicks. so far. Vane clicked on a video.

I was glad Matt had shut him out. I saw the number on the screen.” “I’ve got to do something!” I said. It didn’t pick up as any of my contacts. With all the alert systems they have in place telling them that everything is fine.” Vane yanked the phone away. “I’ll be fine. “Marilynn?” He put the phone to his ear.” Vane tapped on the touchscreen of my cellphone and dialed a number. I didn’t need him in my head too. the regulars won’t pay attention to you. You saw Merlin’s vision. I refused to verbalize it… even in my head. They will hang up on you without a second thought. you have to calm down and think. He was intense enough to have as a boyfriend. Everyone seemed to be on autopilot.Vane cursed. Once Matt found out. he’d blocked Vane. even the teachers. The number connected. I could never tell Vane. Reaching out. Vane had been able to talk to me through the amulet. Truthfully. but for some reason. but I didn’t recognize it. he caught my shoulders and steadied me. I suspected the reason. he hadn’t blocked me. “And tell them what? That you had a vision? Actually you didn’t have a vision.” I straightened away from him and reached for my cellphone. We need help figuring this out. “No. “Why can’t he shut this out from you like he’s shut me out?” Vane and Matt’s powers were connected. “What does the Council know about tsunamis?” *** The rest of the school day went by in a blur. “We should call the emergency services. Well. Warn them. Most of them . At one point.

The Land Rover thundered downhill. everything seemed to have quieted after the small tremor. I cast a speculative look at Grey. Ironic. since actual gargoyles nearly burned down the house a few months . At least. The main street of Concord seemed unusually abandoned as I drove the car we shared around the turnabout and onto the small street that led to the wooded suburbs just past Walden Pond. my home. blocking our path. Without acknowledgement. The tremor had brought back too many memories. marked by a stumpy mailbox. but today he hadn’t even put up a token protest. I turned at a small gravel opening off the road. Vane and Sylvia had also set up an invisible perimeter to detect any magic. and even a pointy turret. The hundred-year-old manor boasted gorgeous arched windows. Bodyguards or sentries? I didn’t know exactly what to call them. Grey and I drove home together. Stone gargoyle rainspouts stuck out at the edges of the house. The cold February sky of grey and blue highlighted the blackened snow that sat in the gutters of the road.checked news updates. Besides the physical checks of who was entering the woods. We emerged from the lane into a circular courtyard in front of Ragnar Manor. I rolled down my window and waved. Yet. the air flowing in from outside smelled of wet pine and dewy wood. blatantly ignoring the no cellphone rule. It wasn’t like him to give me a chance to drive. About midway. the other Land Rover reversed and disappeared back into the hidden lane. who sat hunkered down in the passenger seat. giving the okay to proceed. several balconies. Wizard-goons seemed too impolite for someone risking their life for you. another Land Rover pulled out from behind a hidden lane.

” Grey muttered as he flung open the door.ago. “The tremor today wasn’t a coincidence. “It never stopped. The doors were a masterpiece. The sad thing is—that’s exactly what we did. It used to have a gargoyle statue that expelled water from its mouth. The day everything changed for us. On that day the sword and the stone first appeared in . It all goes back to Arthur’s sword. “It’s a joke. I watched him climb up the short steps to double front doors. That day.” “Yes. Someone with a nasty sense of humor dropped it in the middle of the world so they could watch us as we all tried to kill ourselves to get to it. I left the manor not knowing if I’d ever come back. I pushed a button and the Land Rover’s engine switched off. Grey. The old doors had burned down in a volley of fireballs. The day Alexa died.” “Did you think pulling the sword from the stone was the end? There’s a reason it showed up in the first place.” Grey slammed the car door and headed into the manor. The gargoyle statue had been crushed when Grey’s Corvette slammed into it… the day the sword and the stone fell out of nowhere. and I know the reason. They were new. Wrought iron with an intricate leaf design on frosted glass. I pulled to a stop near a broken fountain in the middle of the courtyard. “It’s starting again.” Grey continued as if he hadn’t heard me. He jumped down and turned to look at me. I doubted she ever would. I stared at the fountain. Ry. And the joke is on us. It didn’t surprise me that Sylvia hadn’t fixed it. isn’t it?” Grey said.

The Wizard Council sent Matt and Vane out to recruit and train Candidates in hopes of improving their chances of survival. Only it hadn’t been Grey or me whom they killed in their first attack. Apparently. they decided to kill every Candidate who was not a gargoyle.London and I learned about magic. . The roar of another engine sounded as another black SUV pulled into the driveway. and snarky wit hung in the thin veil that separates day from falling night. to die. The amulet on my neck warmed against my will. The image of a girl with impossibly bright eyes. and eyes too old for someone I knew to be only eighteen. but more in the hopes that the victorious sword-bearer would align themselves with the wizards. a broad smile. My heart gave an uncomfortable leap. I opened the driver’s side and jumped down from the Land Rover. The gargoyles had taken a different approach. Soft rays of fading daylight shone down on the wavy mane of brown hair making a russet halo around the head of a boy. The passenger side opened and a shadowy figure stepped down. only a few of us had the potential to actually pull the sword. therefore. I learned that Matt—the new boy at school I’d been crushing on—was a wizard. I put my hand up to block the glare of headlights that shone into my eyes. Its bright headlights pierced through the lingering bit of memory. They wanted to kill Grey and me because we were Candidates. He had a lean face. Alexa. Candidates also had the greatest potential. inky lashes. I also learned about gargoyles. out of everyone in the world. To ensure their success.

The L. word.He still wore a black biker jacket. and the sensation of flying as his Ducati took the open curves of the road. The amulet gave a silent sigh. His burden-filled shoulders straightened. Matt’s perfect mouth curved up in an uncertain smile. . I remembered the sensation of my cheek against the back of that slick synthetic leather. All I had to do was take a step back toward him. He took a step toward me and then another… until he stood just a few feet in front. Matt. The last declaration he’d made to me hung between us. My pulse raced so out of control I was afraid it would explode. The one that had nothing to do with like.

CHAPTER 3 .CROSSROADS CHAPTER 3 CROSSROADS .

“Get out of my head. . past the front of the car and reached me in a few steps. My fingers curled into a fist. “Is Sylvia inside? I need to speak with her. he stood right beside his brother. It was his choice for us not to be together and I had moved on. then. paused. The resemblance of their faces and matching length of their frames made the brothers seem eerily similar. Matt!” “As you wish. Vane’s hazel brown eyes glittered despite the dark. The tiger next to the lion. For a second. Despite the shadows. Vane’s broad shoulders moved with loose grace. Matt’s lean ones held tight and still. After months of reflecting on that last time. To shut out what wasn’t meant to be. even if Vane’s torch burned a bit too bright to hold. Only a bit of daylight remained. I touched the amulet that connected us. I almost jumped.” I blinked. but it is a start.” he demurred. The only time I’d heard Matt in my head was the last time I’d seen him. Vane stepped down from the driver’s seat. Matt’s amber ones sank into the night like a dying ember. After not seeing each other for two months that’s all he had to say to me? “Not all. After all he’d put me through. I’d concluded that it just made me… angry.” his voice whispered inside my head. He walked forward. The lights of the SUV shut off. they both flickered sharp and true. but that’s where the similarity ended.“Ryan?” Matt started. started again. Vane pounced forward and placed himself directly in line between Matt and me.

and long wool coats got out. I recognized many of them as guardian wizards who’d protected the Candidates until we got to the Council. She caught me up in a tight . Vane smirked. “I happened to be in the area. I think you’ll like these visitors.Vane said.” The destruction I’d seen had been more than disturbing. “It’s alright. “But I would rather not have burdened you.” The SUVs squealed to a stop beside Vane’s. Vane put himself between the SUVs and me.” Matt touched my shoulder. It can be… disturbing.” I frowned. black-haired boy with glasses. I’m just glad I was close enough to come quickly. “You were coming here?” Matt said evasively. Several men dressed in uniforms of slacks. The Council did.” Matt said dryly. Two teenage wizards jumped out of the last SUV next to the broken fountain—a red-haired girl in punk goth clothes and a skinny. “Aren’t you going to invite us in?” “Since when do you wait for an invitation?” I arched a brow. “I didn’t call. It was terrifying.” he said softly. “I’m sorry you had to see such a vision.” “It helps to have someone share it. My gaze lowered. “I don’t know how you live with them. for once. I tensed. “Gia! Blake!” Gia laughed and met me halfway. I let out a squeal of delight and ran to greet them. “Why did you call Matt?” “Don’t sound so disappointed.” Five other SUVs burst out of the wooded lane and sped onto the driveway. black t-shirts.

” She glanced inside a huge bay window that took up half of one side of the house. Gia rolled her eyes. A little creepy but… nice. Gia looked up at the curved gables of Ragnar Manor and whistled.” Vane had found Gia in Hong Kong and brought her to Avalon Prep in much the same manner as Matt had brought me. “Actually it’s Grey’s family’s house.” I understood that. “It looks good. It is so boring at Avalon Prep without you. Now long curls softened the angular bones of her face. DuLac. “Yes. who remained .” I searched her face. Ryan.” he said with a heavy British accent. He glanced at Matt. “I needed a change. “Is he inside?” I nodded. “I can’t believe you left me with just stiffupper-lip here for company.” Her expression dimmed. self-conscious smile.” She gave a small. I had no idea where she was actually from. Grey. “Nice place. happy to see you too. “I’ve missed you!” I touched her long red hair. “You grew it out.hug. I turned to Blake and attacked him next. the dawn looked different. She never talked about her past. He returned my enthusiastic hug with an awkwardly stiff one. After a night of battling a thousand or so gargoyles. spiky hair. We had both been accepted as Candidates that day. “What are you doing here? What about school?” “School is on break for a week and the Council wanted us —” Blake cleared his throat. “Er. I wasn’t sure how to ask. and from what little I knew about it.” I’d only ever seen her with short.

Behind me. He’s the wise one. “Let’s go inside. Sylvia and Grey need to hear this also. “Maybe we should allow Master Emrys to explain. It amazed me that he still placed Matt up on a pedestal. I was surprised when Clarence faced me first and bent his head in acknowledgement.” I shouted the words in my head.” Gia said.” “Or you could tell me now. I heard Matt order Clarence to “Proceed with the preparations.” An elder guardian.” he said before his eyes slid over Vane to Matt.” “Should we go inside?” Matt said. I heard Blake exhale a shocked breath.” “Twenty more?” I glanced at the two brothers as they walked closer. locking eyes with Matt.” . “Master Emrys. I nodded and crossed to a short stack of steps that led up to the front door. He returned a bland look. “Do you want to warn your family we’re here?” Warn Grey? My heart twisted at the plea in her eyes. “What have you done now?” Beside me. It will be easier to deal with all the questions at once. The other guardians fanned out behind him.” I turned on Matt. “Ms. with a craggy face and a stern. Matt colored. militant expression marched up. “Didn’t you want me out of your head?” “Uh. “What is going on?” Vane shrugged. “Ask him. DuLac. shall we start preparing? I have twenty more guardians arriving here within the next hour. Clarence.at the edge of the driveway. “I need to discuss a few things with Sylvia first.

I’ve been waiting for this one. The walls gleamed with fresh paint. and end tables all sparkled with newness. armchairs.What preparations? I seethed as I entered the manor’s marble foyer. I pushed his feet off the coffee table.” After the fire. feet up on a marble coffee table. Couches. I went into a beautiful living room with mammoth windows on two sidewalls. Think she’s in the kitchen. “What the…?” Vane strode into the living room. Grey sat up straighter.” I grabbed the controller from him and pointed out the front window. its interiors had not been so lucky. A giant hearth dominated the middle wall. A crowd of guardians climbed the manor walls and trees. Sitting on the couch. While the manor had survived the fire. At least one good thing had come out of the disaster. Thought it wasn’t supposed to come out . A shooter game played on a sixty-five inch.” he said between plays. Before the fire. “Wanted to make sure we were okay. overlooking the courtyard in the front and advertising a panoramic of the woods in the back. scouting for hiding places. Sylvia had updated everything to suit her. Grey ate popcorn and held a controller. “Is Sylvia home yet?” “Mom was worried after the tremor. “Hollow Hill Three. Alexa had called it “Pastoral-passé. “Do you have any idea what’s going on outside?” “Huh?” Grey mumbled. the manor had been stuffed with antique wooden furniture that scores of Ragnars had collected over time. as he fired loudly at a few characters onscreen. flat screen TV. I called it “Cabin-in-the-woods” chic.

“What?” he muttered. He would drive me to murder. “Including your girlfriend. there’s something I need to tell you—” I faltered. He’d been so aloof. so removed since we’d gotten back. “Emrys. “Better to cauterize the wound than to let it fester. he lounged back into the couch. love.” Grey looked at him in dismay. “Grey. “Why didn’t you tell me? Where is she?” “Waiting for you outside. “How many spells did she have to sell to pull that off?” Vane plopped down on the couch beside Grey and took his controller.” “Vane!” I scowled at him. I stared at him.” Vane commented before restarting the video game. Ragnar.” Grey said. “Thought they would’ve caged golden boy after the stunt he pulled.” Matt said.” “They wouldn’t have been able to hold me.” “Mom got it early from a friend.” “Gia’s here?” Grey jumped up. Ugh. “My brother brought a few friends. I wasn’t too sure how he was going to react to her actually being here.” Matt said arrogantly. “The Council let you go free?” I kicked Grey in the shin. I . Sitting down. “That’s the most movement I’ve seen out of him in months.” Vane said. “Hey!” Matt walked into the room. Grey protested. Grey hurriedly exited the room. How did guys do that? Lethal one minute and the next completely lethargic. He shot me a furious look.for another month though.

Why? It’s too dangerous to let it out of the protection of the Council.” I forced myself to look away from the sword. “It’s time to come home. allowing dull gold on the hilt to sparkle. They knelt down to the sword. The Dragon’s Eye awoke in the presence of King Arthur’s sword. He knew about power. The gemstone of my amulet warmed against the bare skin of my neck. An understanding shone there. You need to return to Avalon Prep. My eyes locked onto his dark ones. He held it out and commanded. I felt its pull. My resentment flared. They knelt down to me. I walked away from it once and I could do it again. It hung in the air. “Aayat. He’d been watching my every reaction. “Excalibur. and regulars—popped into my mind. but also a hint of severity. no one except maybe Matt.” The knife expanded and elongated into a broadsword. a whisper fluttered along the lobes of my ears. I swayed towards it. The gray steel blade shone with a hint of blue in the light. The sword beckoned me to it. The last rays of the fading sun fell onto the sword. “Why are you really here?” Matt drew what looked like an old knife out of his biker jacket. An image of a rooftop full of an assortment of people— wizards. I drew back. gargoyles. Vane looked up from the video game.turned my annoyance on Matt instead.” “To remind her what she’s left behind.” I stared at the sword. No one knew how hard that had been.” Matt’s eyes fixed on me. the crushing mantle of responsibility. silent and waiting. Then. “You brought it. Ryan. He would always put the needs of the .

“Of course. Grey held himself stiffly while Gia looked like she was trying not to cry. I resisted an urge to roll my eyes.” Vane concluded. “Interesting.” “I remember what I said.” Matt’s eyes deepened with unexpressed emotion. I go where she goes. Matt gave me a smug look. It is not mine and we both know that.sword first. I walked to the front window. The Council wants you to return. . Outside. not me. They feel it’s important that you train properly with Excalibur and they want the other students to be trained along with you. “I said it to the world. Master Merlin. you already claimed the sword as yours. “She’s just hiding here.” Vane corrected. Vane glanced at me. I am the best. Why did I have to keep reminding myself of that? I crossed my arms over my chest. He said something to the other two before he practically ran into the manor.” “They want all the Candidates trained?” Vane remarked. Remember. I think she should go back.” Matt gave him a pained look. Blake looked like he wished he were anywhere else. “I’m not going back so that Vane can train a replacement for me. To train them. I turned back to Matt. “However. Not to you. He turned his head and saw me. I have already been spoken for.” My lips started to curve up. “They want you to return also.” Vane said.” “Backups. Grey and Gia stood a good two feet apart.” “Makes sense.” My jaw dropped down. “I am home.

and essentially. Matt shook his head. In preparation for our attempt to pull the sword. Only the First Member ranked higher. or gargoyle) could be armed. He’d been working on a system to regulate the sale of magic. The loud staccato of machine gun fire sounded from the speakers as Vane shot ten people in graphic color on the screen. The First Member concentrated on creating policy and usually didn’t get involved with day-to-day affairs. They oversaw implementation of all the policies the Council set. He couldn’t have liked being replaced. He had so many plans. a regular. Second Member was the title of the operations head of the Council.” “Are you going to teach us again too?” I asked. ran the wizard world. anyone out there (magic. we’d done physical training with Vane and magical defense with Matt. Since the wizards made their money by selling magic. but he didn’t fool me. “Dullard. to ward off a magical attack. “I’ve a few things to do. regular. to make the world safer from its current state of indiscriminate distribution that .” “Second Member duties?” I asked. “The sword does not change allegiances easily. Vane made a sound of dissension.Blake stumbled into the living room and halted near the opening. The amulet and charms Matt had given us allowed a non-magic person. Whatever the Council thinks it can accomplish. He informed me cheerfully.” Matt’s expression remained blank. “The Council removed him as Second Member. Matt sighed.” Matt waved a hand and the TV turned off. I don’t see how it could hurt to have your friends trained.

I suppressed a smile. Vane noticed her protective stance and smirked at me. She saw Vane first and smiled brightly. I had forced him to.turned a blind eye to its abuses. I found this delicious recipe I know you’ll just adore—” Then. Matt told me once that Vane’s wizard super-power was talking. he and she were chattering away like two best friends. Sylvia. But then neither had Vane. “Not that prig. Vane could get pretty much whatever he wanted just by being charming. She’d been wary when he first showed up at the manor. “Master Emrys. It was a good thing he rarely bothered to be charming. I agreed. My adoption by the Ragnars may have been official for only five days but we’d already become a family. She came to stand beside me. after we proved we could hold our own. I asked.” Vane groaned. He’d come around though. a sledgehammer had . while awed by Matt. “Who was appointed Second Member then?” “Councilmember Thorton.” Blake answered. Sylvia walked into the living room. “I’m so glad to see you. Like the rest of the wizard world.” Sylvia said deferentially. as if she were ready to jump in to defend me against Matt. because protocol demanded it. Thorton had no love for regulars—anyone who wasn’t supernaturnal. Her face paled. High heels wobbled to a sudden halt. Vane had always tried his best to keep Candidates who were not wizards out of Avalon Prep. but after one conversation. simply adored Vane. It didn’t sound like much of a super-power until you saw it in action. I rolled my eyes. she spotted Matt. still in her work suit with her dark hair tied back tightly. The last time she’d seen Matt.

Blake shrugged.” “Oh. “If he’s not Second Member any longer.” “Nothing else has been going on?” I said.slammed her life and she still blamed Matt for it.” Sylvia said with pleased surprise. in the 1800s. He crossed to where I stood near the door that led to the hallway. and crashed into the office doorway. although they stood a safe distance apart from each other. sped down the hallway. “Any idea why my brother would put a privacy spell on the office?” Vane looked at Blake. but I could use your input. “I only volunteered to come here and see Ryan and convince her to come back. He whispered. I’ve come up with a system to regulate the selling of magic. Sylvia showed Matt out of the living room. There it died with a loud bang. The Council would have me discuss a few matters. They went down the short hallway to her office and I heard the door shut.” A faint wind slithered around us. I need to speak with you. I’d be happy to contribute whatever I can.” Ragnar Bank’s largest commodity was magic. Clarence and another guardian were scattered around the manor. Grey and Gia walked into the living room. “Of course. I shot Vane a look. Sylvia glanced out the front window. The Ragnars had been brokering magic ever since they settled in Boston. “Zrnoti. “What’s going on?” Gia asked. “I was asking Blake what Matt has been up to while I’ve . “Is everything alright?” “Of course.” Matt said easily. why is he still heading up the regulation?” Vane rose up from the sofa. Both seemed composed. “However.

I only know it was out of the country. The statement was unfortunately true. I could understand why. While the Council ran the school. and hated Gia by association. I felt my cheeks heat. I elbowed him. Blake?” “I don’t know.” “She does?” asked Blake.” “Master Emrys and the Council had been having a non-stop session for awhile.” “It doesn’t work well for me.” Blake said. She was pretty dodgy about the whole thing. “You mean other than moping around campus because Ryan isn’t there?” she said.” “Dodgy is apt. but you have ears I don’t. Emerson?” Vane prompted impatiently. Marilynn was a school administrator. I rolled my eyes. Merlin’s magic is too powerful. but he’d never let me down either. actually the school administrator. . She hated me because I’d dated Matt. “Merlin had her arrange the travel and she said the flight from Heathrow was only twenty minutes.” Vane took hold of my shoulders and positioned me so I faced the doorway to the office. Vane made a sound of disgust. Gia continued. I can’t break through the bubble. “Where did Matt go. But now that I think about it.” Gia spoke up. “Then he left to travel—” “Where and when. “Focus.” I explained. “We need to hear what is going on inside that office. “Be nice. Cornwall.been gone. “I wanted to switch into more advanced classes so I went to speak to Marilynn…” Gia made a face.” he said. I don’t think she wanted to say much in front of me. Marilynn handled all of its myriad details. He would never be nice.

“Watch what you’re saying about my sister.“The—” I started to explain. Did she have to go out of her way to antagonize him? Vane’s hands tightened on my shoulders painfully. “I thought they only went on a couple of dates —” Gia giggled. Not because I was trying to hide it.” “He’s going to know. I got that.” Grey made an annoyed sound.” Gia winked and sent Vane a gleeful glance. He pulled me into the hallway away from the others.” “Don’t be loud. I didn’t know why Vane seemed to want to keep it secret. Before I could ask why.” Vane gave me a little push closer to the office door. I hadn’t told my friends or Grey about Matt and the mind-reading abilities of the amulet. . DuLac. “Trust me. “Oh.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “They have a special connection. dates. much less a bed. saying loudly.” I sputtered. it had yet to come up.” Blake colored. “We can use your connection to do a spell. I glared at Gia. Vane.” Vane said. Vane mouthed. “Yes. He shook his head in silent message and I finally got it.” Everyone already suspected the term “we went on a couple of dates” translated to “we spent the night not sleeping a couple of times. Blake said.” I frowned at him in confusion. She was not a Vane fan. He didn’t like the idea of putting Matt and me in the same sentence. “Just try listening with the amulet. “Matt and I did n-not—” “Right.

” he said. Sylvia sat behind the mammoth writing desk. Something I have been seeking ever since Excalibur was pulled from the stone. you need to allow this. and I want you to agree. She avoided looking at Matt. Sylvia. her face pale. separating her from Matt. “I have a small army outside for your protection. “The gargoyle king has asked to see you specifically.” “That is what I’m afraid of.” she said.” The walls of the spacious office seemed to shrink around Sylvia. If you care at all about Grey and Ryan. “Rourke has promised to give us something we desperately need in exchange for this meeting. How was I supposed to be “not loud” while trying to read someone’s mind? Pushing the irritation away. He will only agree to come to Ragnar manor. She glanced at the picture of Alexa on her desk. As if she needed to place a barrier between them. In my mind. I closed my eyes. Their future—no.I gave him an irritated look. It was like turning a key. the office came through with crystal clarity. Trees knocked against a thick-paned window and even though it couldn’t have possibly allowed any of the winter chill inside. all our futures will be changed if you do this.” “You must. “He can’t come here!” Sylvia said. Sylvia shivered. “You don’t understand. “The Council received the message just yesterday. I rushed back to them and then straight here.” Sylvia muttered. “I c-can’t. as well as the walls upon walls of leather-bound books that appeared to have not been read in years. Matt stood next to one of the large armchairs facing the desk.” said Matt. but I doubt .

he won’t give her a choice. “There is no time left.” Sylvia said. I let go of Matt’s mind. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” .” “If they find out about Rourke. “Once I tell Vane who is coming tomorrow. He looked over my shoulder at his brother. “Whoops. Matt halted at the sight of me standing in the hallway.” The office doors flung open. The link untethered with a loud snap.” Matt rubbed his forehead. “A lot has happened. It ran out as soon as the second tremor occurred. His lips thinned in a strict line of disapproval.” Sylvia said.we’ll need it. Seething with anger. My eyes flew open. I will have them taken out of here tonight. She needs time to recover and lick her wounds for a bit.” “He won’t hurt me. Footfalls sounded inside the office.” I’d heard enough. “I told you to be quiet. “But I won’t risk Grey and Ryan—” “No need to worry. they won’t go.” Sylvia said.” “Ryan doesn’t want to leave.” Vane hissed at me.

CHAPTER 4 – A HAUNTED HOUSE CHAPTER 4 A HAUNTED HOUSE .

” Matt took another step toward us. “Is it because of me? Does he think he can turn me into one of them?” A gargoyle.” “What? I’m not letting that monster near her.” Vane moved to stand beside me. One of them had torn my mother apart and tried to . you know that. “What does it have to do with Rourke?” “I am hoping Rourke knows how we can stop it. “You haven’t answered the question. “I’ve agreed to the meeting to find out. “How can you ask this?” I asked.” I was about to grumble.” when he beat me to it. Matt moved to let him by.“What’s going on?” Grey asked. I was not removed as Second Member.” I took a breath. Red blood on white stone tile. “Rourke didn’t attack Alexa.” Grey rushed toward the office to see his mother. “They are not all the same.” Matt repeated impatiently. I asked to be released—for this reason.” “You had a vision?” Blake asked. “The gargoyle king wants to see Sylvia and she’s going to let him. “They’re all the same. He can tell us. He took a few steps into the hall. We need to know why the sword has been sent to us.” I said. Why does Rourke want to come here?” “I don’t know. “Was it bad?” “Very bad. We need to find out why Excalibur is here. An old memory of a cold monster with protruding fangs and long claws jumped to the surface of my mind. Just the thought left me horrified. You saw my vision today. “I am not here on a whim. I’m trying to stop it.

you are being ridiculous. She was digging her nails into her palms so deeply that she’d have marks. Some had taken positions in the trees. it doesn’t make you a gargoyle.” “You’re not one of those beasts. while we do not know everything about them. “I doubt you ever will. He’d been sent to find out if I was a Candidate and kill me if I was. . “At the bank. He’d almost succeeded. The gargoyles are monsters —” Sylvia held up a hand. “But I would like you two to be safe.” She gave me an anxious look. But what struck me was that she didn’t look scared.” Gargoyles looked like regular humans. “Mom. I’d seen one climb up to the balcony above us and I had no doubt more hid in other crevices of the manor. Vane squeezed my shoulder. then we must. Grey followed at her heels. Leave tonight. It was only when they turned that the true beast underneath became visible.do the same to me. Out of the front windows. I watched the guardians scramble.” Matt soothed. “I am not leaving you alone. Sylvia walked out of the office. Her hands were fisted. I deal with gargoyles on a regular basis. My first boyfriend. you have not shown any ability to turn. “Just because you have some remnant gargoyle genes. One stood half-visible on a trellis beside the garage. Grey. Grey.” Grey crossed his arms.” “What!” Grey exploded. “Why does he want to meet now?” Vane continued to press Matt.” I glanced at Sylvia. Morgan. “Enough. If Master Emrys says we must. “Admittedly. Sylvia tapped her foot.” Gia said fiercely. had been a gargoyle. she looked stressed.

” I surveyed Grey. The knife elongated. “All the Candidates deserve to know. “It’s simple.Matt shrugged. I drew out the knife from an inside pocket. The Dragon’s Eye glowed. She wanted to meet the king. Gia.” Sylvia bit her lip in an oddly girly way.” I snapped. If we don’t know why Excalibur matters.” Matt’s eyes fixed on Sylvia. what is the point of further training?” I walked up to Matt. “I received the message while traveling. I made a decision. “You would go back?” Matt said first. “Let me see the gargoyles and I’ll agree to go to England.” I clarified. They went to a bit of trouble to find me and the messenger who delivered his request hinted that there’s a compelling reason that the meet happen immediately. then I deserve to know. “If Rourke knows something about why Excalibur is here. not just a mother. I realized. Matt held himself stiffly as the back of my fingers skimmed his ribs while I groped through the garment.” *** Both Matt and Vane gaped at me. For a second. “Unacceptable—” “It will have to be acceptable. She was… nervous.” “Since when do we care if a gargoyle is in trouble?” Vane sneered. then no gargoyle will be. There has been no word from the gargoyles since Rourke was forced to concede Excalibur to us. His eyes flared with surprise when I reached into his jacket. and it startled me. “My feeling is that he is in some sort of trouble. I touched my amulet. and Gia. Grey. . I had a sense of her as a woman. My hands trembled and I held it out to Blake. If Ryan is here. and Blake. “After I meet with Rourke. The golden hilt of Excalibur winked at us. Vane shook his head.

there’s Vane. “What about Grey? He’s been different since the rooftop.” I said. it’s our right to know?” I gave her a funny look. She colored. It’s like he doesn’t want to feel anything. French doors led out onto the balcony on the right side of my room. Light had faded into darkness. He’s shut me out so completely. It’s our right. “Stop. please. Is it me or is he more cut than when we were training every day?” She said the last part glumly. “He still trains everyday.” I flopped down on the queen-sized bed next to her and lay back.” I got up on one elbow and fixed her with a look.” “I think we’re all different since the trial. . but it was a clear night.” she said tongue-incheek.” “I’m sure he’d like to puppetmaster you.” *** Gia sat on my bed later that night in my room.” “Of course. her voice heavy with implication. Soft wrinkles covered the white ceiling. “What about Grey?” Gia pulled her knees up and rested her chin on them. “Do you train… together?” I threw another pillow at her.“The sword is ours. A cold moon anchored the abyss of the sky. “I mean—Merlin must have a reason for not telling us. reluctant to give him any sort of compliment. Matt isn’t always right. “We’re just puppets to him and he wants to stay the puppetmaster.” “You sound like Blake. “Funny.” I flopped around on my stomach. “Does he?” Gia said. I grabbed a pillow and threw it at her. “Do you really think whatever happens with Excalibur.

We don’t worship the ground you walk on. I knew I had the right argument.” he said to Gia.” When Vane didn’t say anything. I continued. “What are you doing? You could have just asked her to go. “You’re not our trainer anymore. “She already hates you enough.A brief knock sounded at the door behind us.” “I don’t have time for niceties. she walked out of the room. Not because he hadn’t caught that.” Vane stalked forward until he reached the edge of the bed. Vane would probably force me to leave just to spite Matt.” Vane commanded.” I sighed.” “Virahyat.” “You agreed downstairs—” “No. “Leave. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t take you out of here tonight. Vane. Gia sprang out of bed with an indignant expression. I moved to the edge of the bed and rose up on my knees to face Vane. “Did you notice that Matt never answered why he was headed here?” Vane’s eyes flared just a bit in surprise. I sat up on the bed. Where did you send her?” “The spell will wear off before she leaves the house. Without another word. but because I had.” I made a face. “What have you figured out?” . Vane strode inside. Merlin agreed. “You want to know as much as I do what Rourke says about Excalibur. I was sure. Gia blinked.

but nothing past second base. I followed him.” “That’s better. He waved a hand and the French doors opened behind us. I was so used to seeing him in nothing but athletic track-pants that it didn’t seem as if he should smell of anything other than sweat.“What will you do to find out?” Vane said flippantly. There had been a lot of lip-locking during the past few months. brushing his nose with mine. It surprised me a bit that he was wearing any fragrance. tugging up my shirt. My breathing hitched when his palms slid up my side. yet smooth. Cold stone bricks made up the floor of the wide balcony. His fingers traced over the sensitive hollow of each rib. Vane let out a groan. caressing it. “What?” Cupping my face. hard. My toes had curled into my feet . “I think I’ve heard you say his name enough times for today. My hands ran over Vane’s shoulders. I blinked. Shoulders I could anchor myself to and never let go. My pulse accelerated. Vane put a knee on the bed and pulled my hands tightly around his neck. Cold wind hit my bare midriff.” His hands pulled up the bottom of my shirt to touch bare skin underneath.” He rushed outside. “Vane.” I raised my chin. He started to bend me back onto the bed. “Maybe I’ll ask Matt—” Vane caught me by the waist. he gave me a quick hard kiss. The dull roar of an engine being turned on sounded from outside. I inhaled his cologne—one of those with a name I couldn’t pronounce. The magnetizing scent of dark wood mingled with the coarse flavor of tobacco beckoned me closer. “Later.

I was pretty sure there was no way I could read Matt when he wasn’t around. “Is it?” Vane opened his mouth. I touched my amulet. Without a cataclysmic trigger like the last vision. “Not a good time to test me. “You have no idea where to go.by the time I caught up to Vane at the balcony’s ledge.” His eyes narrowed. “What part of ‘you can’t bully me’ are you not getting? I’m going.” “If it’s about the sword.” I played my last card. I caught his elbow and pulled him back. I shoved them down. “Matt isn’t going to tell us anything. A black SUV sped out of the driveway into the woods. “I can find out. Vane cursed. using one of the grappling techniques he’d taught me. I gave him a look.” Vane ran a hand through his hair and I knew he’d bought my bluff.” he said. He muttered. I slapped my hand over it. My amulet glowed. “I’m going too.” The moonlight left his lean face shadowed and sinister.” .” I retorted. “What part of ‘there are gargoyles running around and it’s not safe anywhere but here’ are you unable to grasp?” I scowled. it’s about me. Little butterflies in my stomach fluttered.” “Where?” “I’ve got to go. But Vane didn’t know that. His eyes glittered with a dangerous light. “You’re going to drive me mad.” Vane leapt on top of the balcony ledge. “He’s off. “You know where he’s going. “Do you really want to try magic on me?” Vane pushed my hand away.” I declared.

Matching arched wooden doors barred any visitors from going in at this late hour.” An arrogant smile broke over his face. “Not very subtle. “Did you find out anything?” “Do you want me to tell you?” he needled. Tense waves of acid rose in my stomach. Two empty SUVs sat in the driveway.” *** A wide field stretched out in a large square surrounded by a fortress of classically architected business buildings. A bright moon highlighted the museum’s arched windows. “Is this why you directed me to do a project there? Were you using me to look for whatever Matt is looking for?” My voice rose with every word. amorphous shadows floated here and there above the towers of the Salem Witch Museum. Tucked in one corner of the square. “Why are we here?” I sat in the passenger seat of the Land Rover. Never say I can’t deliver. The melancholy museum building hid behind the protection of large oak trees. Vane slipped the Land Rover into a dark spot away from any streetlight. about a hundred yards from the museum’s driveway. “Is that Master Emrys’s four by four?” . “Weren’t you complaining that I hadn’t read any of your work? Now you know I did… that it also gave me an excuse to pop into the museum worked for both of us. I asked. Blake leaned forward from the middle seat in the back.” Vane remarked.“Yes.” My voice dripping with syrupy sweetness. Not a soul other than us could be seen. Vane straightened away from the steering wheel. “I suppose I did promise you a date.

“They’re part of this too. For someone so out of his time. Vane waved a hand and the door shut itself. Grey didn’t like Matt. “Vane!” I protested. really.“Let’s go after them. Vane had assimilated well. On the other hand. You need the help. now I will never be able to remove that image from my mind. I sighed. He still blamed him for what happened to Alexa. Or rather she. “Does he always need help?” Blake groaned.” Gia muttered. It was cute how he and Vane had bonded over the past few months over video games. be quiet. before things could deteriorate any more in the car. like Blake. She had gone from being a Vane supporter to a Vane hater fairly quickly after we’d started training. . “Someone’s grumpy. I can always take you back to the hole I found you in. “Did we have to bring the Scooby gang?” If I hadn’t been so mad at him. He gave me a look. “Please.” Grey snapped the release on his seatbelt and opened the door just behind me. I would have laughed. couldn’t understand how I could walk away from Matt. Matt shut the huge door behind them.” Vane snarled. how much TV did he watch? I told him. Grey was used to a coach’s abrasive personality. Matt and six other wizards came out of the museum.” Gia snickered from Blake’s other side.” “Emerson. Cornwall. They started talking to each other. Gia. But. and as a jock. “What happened?” Blake said. Gia was still mad at him about the spell. “Why are we waiting?” I asked. not to mention ginormous ego.

making a small shield. Grey.” Blake answered. “Get out of the car!” Vane yelled.” A fireball leaped out of one gargoyle’s palm and headed straight toward me like a live grenade. Behind me. On our knees on the sidewalk. . Blake and Grey were on their knees on the sidewalk. “It’s taking all my strength to hold the shield. Three tall men with beastly faces on—the protruding forehead of a Cro-Magnon man.” Vane put his hand on the door handle. The gargoyles launched a volley of fireballs. The doors of the SUV opened and three gargoyles jumped out. “Gargoyles!” Vane waved a hand and all the car doors flung open. “The sword-bearer! Kill her! We may never get a chance like this again. “Time for me to step in. I landed hard.“They’ve just figured out they’re in the wrong place.” Blake yelled. He put up his hand. It hit the Land Rover and exploded with an enormous bang. Blake jumped in front of me. and hulking shoulders. One stared at me. The fireball glanced off it. The mammoth SUV shook as it absorbed the bomb. “The spell will run out soon. my palms scraping the ground. The ruby gemstone on my amulet heated. Yellow light extended from it. We leaped out just before the speeding SUV rammed the Land Rover. Blake. I had no time to duck. A relentless barrage of fireballs bombarded us.” The headlights of another SUV blinded us as it roared down the road on a collision path with us. I saw the soft sheen of a barrier extend around me. and I hid behind the meager defense. “Can’t you fire back?” Grey shouted. two sharp fangs.

“We have to take our chance now.” I said. I heard one gargoyle curse. His strength . Blake said a word and the knives extended. swords in hand. “Bugger. Grey swung his sword at a tall gargoyle on the end. Blake took out a matching one from his. the volley of fireballs weakened. I met Grey’s eyes. Blake fired his own fireball at the last one.” Blake scooted forward. I took the one in the middle.” I told Blake. Grey took a knife out of his pocket. Our knees scraped along the concrete sidewalk as we inched toward the gargoyles. burning off a few strands. We ran at the gargoyles. Finally. the shield held. Blake blocked them oneby-one. My sword clanged with the gargoyle’s. “Their power is running out. “Now. The shield shook under Blake’s momentary distraction as fireballs continued to hammer it. Grey and I jumped out from behind the shield. Two of the gargoyles shot at us with weaker fireballs. To our relief.” I told him. The fireballs intensified. The shield evaporated. Then. I said.“We need swords. the closer we got. “Blake!” I cried. Blake faltered over a crack in the sidewalk and a fireball whizzed just above my head. “Sorry. “Move forward.” He handed me his sword and concentrated on the shield.” Blake warned. The gargoyles raised their own swords.” he mumbled with a nervous laugh.” “I’m getting tired too. “Blake.” I hissed.

” I pushed the body off me. “Worried.” He pushed down on me to crush me into submission. He stumbled on the same crack Blake had. I raised the blade and gathered my strength. He gave me a menacing smile. Red spots blotted my vision and I gasped for oxygen.threatened to break my arm. Ready to behead him. “Is that any way to thank me for saving your life?” Matt stared at the dead gargoyle with a dismayed expression.” Matt’s voice stopped me. “I’m not taking . the gargoyle’s head came off. “Killing you will make me the most celebrated gargoyle alive. He stood beside the crashed SUVs. holding a sword. Blake’s sword felt clunky in my hand as if it couldn’t decide if it liked me. sword-bearer?” he growled. wait. Vane stepped aside to avoid the falling body. swordbearer. smearing against my skin. Matt rushed toward me. “I wanted the gargoyle alive. Still I pushed and met every parry the gargoyle threw at me. His body fell forward on me while the head tumbled to the ground. “I didn’t think you would do it. Vane rounded the back of the SUV. Blake and Grey leaned against the SUV. “Ryan. “Ugh. It seeped in through my button-down shirt. The gargoyle’s face changed back to a normal man’s.” He said the last word with a sneer and grabbed my throat. In one clean slice. The gargoyle pushed me back further down the sidewalk. I took the opportunity to knock the sword out of his hand. Blood sprayed all over my front. Vane. Two dead gargoyles lay on the ground.” Vane gave him a withering expression.

The wind cleansed my shirt. Moonlight illuminated the smooth faces on the severed heads of the dead gargoyles. He watched me closely. I should have had no problem taking out a gargoyle. Around us. “Isn’t it obvious?” “It wasn’t Rourke. The three we fought on the sidewalk. “But she’s fine.” the soft word fluttered around me.” I touched my soaking shirt with a grimace. “Gia?” “A gargoyle knocked her out. “Yes. I can see that. Matt touched my shoulder. I had been relieved when Matt stopped me from killing the gargoyle.” Vane touched my cheek. soaking up the blood into bubbles that fell and splattered the grey sidewalk. “We had four more on our side. “I was handling it just fine.” said Matt.” said Matt. My shoulders relaxed.” “I’ll check on her. A guardian kneeled down beside two bodies.chances with her. Vane didn’t. Two guardians.” He had a point. “Good.” Blake said and hurried around the Land Rover. My hands trembled. The two brothers glared at each other. “Marsti. the carnage lay strewn across the quiet street.” Vane used the edge of his fine wool coat to clean off the blade of his sword. scarred beyond recognition. I didn’t know why. I looked around in worry. Now. but I ignored them. I presumed.” “She was handling it just fine. From between the trees.” . we don’t know who sent them. I saw about five more on the driveway.

it hadn’t turned out well. “Take a look at this. “They’re looking for the same thing you are. I wasn’t about to let him go off alone. “You know where it is? How do you even know what it is?” “Yes. A curvy V inside a circle had been burned onto the skin like a brand. I’m going to have to walk. “Are we going to have to kill everyone in his clan?” Vane said in disgust. “When they first spotted me.” Vane looked . This is a distraction.” “What do you mean it’s not here?” Matt demanded. I wasn’t the target here.Matt knelt by the gargoyle that had almost taken me down. “Good girl.” Vane strode toward the Land Rover. Blake walked up to us. Merlin is the target. Morgan. “This was an attack on Ryan?” I shook my head and nodded at the gargoyle below us. I could tell they were surprised.” “Walk to where?” He raised a brow at me. “We’re stronger when we stay together. “No.” He looked at Matt.” Vane cursed. The engine was crushed. But it’s not here. “Morgan?” I whispered.” I said. then. They know it. had killed my mother before turning on me. He glanced around at the other SUVs. The inside completely destroyed. We’ll need it. “Sure you haven’t had enough for one night?” I bit my lip. Still. I was the freaking sword-bearer after all. “Shite. my ex-boyfriend. The last time I’d followed a wizard down the rabbit hole. Grab a sword.” He turned the gargoyle’s hand over. They looked in worse condition. and no. Whether or not I wanted to be.

” Ahead of us. stay with Gia. “Blake. actually. The crushed Land Rover and SUV parted. Matt told them. “You’re not going without me. . Holland?” Matt’s expression blanked. Grey followed him. “Will you be able to clean this mess before anyone sees?” Blake answered affirmatively.” he commanded. the guardians. “Where are we going?” Matt demanded when we caught up to Vane. “Rotterdam. “What are you getting at. “Where were you exactly when the gargoyles contacted you?” Matt gave him an impatient look. Vane strode past them toward the soccer-sized field that stretched across the square.” “Holland. came running as soon as they saw Vane leaving.at Matt. “Holland. I want the others to follow me. Blake blinked up from where he sat with a groggy Gia.” Vane waved his hand. “Delfthaven. Vane and Grey crossed into the field. “We’re wasting time.” Vane chortled. and I ran after them.” Grey still held a sword in his hand. “Let’s go. Vane?” “You don’t know? I thought you liked history.” Vane repeated. The other wizards. three guardians. “One guardian stays with Blake.” “Go where?” Matt frowned. Beside me. Matt.” I rolled my eyes. Matt cursed.

” “The Speedwell left from Delfthaven. but why? Was it really the gargoyles who suggested meeting here or were you already on your way?” Matt’s cheeks puffed a bit. He wore a devastatingly smug expression at having one-upped his brother. They were on a long voyage to a new world. and some went back to Holland. I could sympathize. In the ballroom. England in 1620. Do you at least know this part?” “The Mayflower and the Speedwell. I glanced at Vane and had to fight a smile. “But obviously you do. I’d been there not too long ago for a wedding reception. The Speedwell had a leak and didn’t make it past Dartmouth. My brother has been tracing the pilgrims.” Vane wagged his eyebrows. I’d sat by an antique wood fireplace in chairs that looked like they could’ve been stolen from Ben Franklin’s house. the closer we got to the .” I said. Salty ocean air snuck around the corners of the tight buildings. “Yes. “Coincidence? I think not. The town of Salem sat off the edge of Massachusetts Bay and had been a huge seaport at one time.I ground my teeth. but only one ship made it here. Matt stared at the simple arches on the brownstone buildings. so why don’t you tell us?” We crossed the field and out of the Salem Commons. Two ships left from Southampton. Vane led us past a hotel with bright sconces. some stayed in England. England. Vane clucked his tongue. Vane did excel at pushing buttons. The spaces between them became wider. “Sad education you’re getting these days. Some passengers transferred to the Mayflower.

and some Keltoi left the pilgrims at Plymouth and joined their brethren among the Puritans.” Matt nodded. Some.” I said. Many changed their names. It was an oppressive time in England and many of our treasures were divided among those traveling to the New World and given to safeguard. “To help those accused.wharf. Vane walked us past the maritime museum. what is interesting is that I found a Keltoi was related to one of the magistrates.” I said. that’s where I’m hoping Rourke has some answers. The wizard was never accused and the families stayed . Vane swung his sword in a practice thrust. In the dark. starting to connect the dots. As in Plymouth? That’s almost two hours from here. the Keltoi were famously discovered and persecuted. but they kept close to the two magistrates. among other innocents. “The witches started panicking when the trials started. died. Matt shook his head. “I’ve come full circle. “Pilgrims. Of course. “No.” I muttered. I do not know how I’m going to trace them. Vane ignored me. “Indeed.” “The Salem witch trials.” I said with attitude. The ones who escaped scattered. However. as you know. white snow glistened along the open spaces on the wharf. It hardly matters now.” “Some great help they were. “To help or hide themselves. I found out in Holland that more Keltoi came later with the Puritans to Boston.” The Keltoi were what the wizards called themselves. haven’t I? Keltoi were among the pilgrims. Ryan’s research for her exhibit turned up quite a few known Keltoi names —” “I’m so glad.

by taking energy from any visitors to the house. Laughing people drank out of pints and snacked. Grey and Vane gave the place a longing look.” I said. Odd drafts.” The smell of food hit our nostrils.” We passed the pub and the scene changed. Even in the . Later. what is hidden there will never be found by a regular.” In the dark. In his novel. “The house is said to be haunted. The cold draft one feels is probably the spell draining them. A pub topped with the weathervane of a fat pig lit the wharf. “I have been a bit preoccupied. In this case.” I finally realized where we were going. it will be volatile. a descendant of the magistrate wrote a most interesting story. the house still stands today. he writes about a house built by a man who was persecuted for being a wizard. If the spell has been around for so long. Matt explained. Vane tore his eyes away.” He gave Vane a shrewd look. “You’re worried it will explode on you. “The gargoyles know about it. Peculiar noises. “If you’ve figured out this much.” Matt snorted. I pinched Vane. Vane’s eyes turned to me. If I am correct.close for years. “A spell will last for centuries if it has a way to keep itself energized. Ghosts… all knocking about inside a building with one of the most unusual architectures in the country. “Saucy girls get spanked. you must have tried to open the message. Matt let out a sound of disgust. but I wager they have not figured out how to unlock it. Vane continued. I blushed deep red.” Vane glanced at me.” “I don’t understand. In reality. pupils still dilated from adrenaline.

We all jumped when a loud crash sounded from inside. Christmas was over long ago. just before the witch trials. The home should have beckoned us forward. The house had been built sometime in the late 1600s.shadows. stood aloft like lonely beacons at various points spread out over the roof. but it was nice to see a bit of festivity left over. A light flickered high up in the third story of the square-paned dormer windows where nothing but darkness should have been. grey mansion with large. wooden triangles crowned with finials. a sign told us tours had ended hours ago. Wind screamed across the snowdecorated lawn and whistled through the large garden half-hidden at in the rear. It led up to a tall. Three thick. Open sky and the sound of endless water served as the backdrop to the battered-looking house. Outside. “You really want to go in there?” The seven pointed gables. withered elm trees guarding the front. By . We’d come to the only true haunted place in Salem—the House of the Seven Gables. *** Grey made a face. Vane hoisted his sword. Garlands trimmed with red holly lined the doors and windows. A path had been cleared to the framed entrance with cranberry glass sidelights. and the air around it still evoked the turbulence of that time. the quaint street of pristine trees and shrubs looked deceptively serene.” We trod through snow up the short walkway to the entrance. brick chimneys protruded from behind the gables. but we stood unmoving at its entrance. I blinked and the light disappeared. “Gargoyles. Snow sat in the crevices of the roof.

To the right of the entrance. Fuming. I stared after him.” I made a face. “We should split up.” Matt waved a hand and the wooden door creaked open. “Vane shouldn’t have brought you at all. just off the sidewalk. It was .” I said. they still saw me as five-foot-nothing blonde flower.” “I’ve had training.” Vane said. you need time. Matt stopped him. Vane started to march up to the entrance. Even after all I’d done. “I went home to recover not to run away. The three guardians nodded and hurried away. It’s more likely to be empty.” Matt replied. most everyone’s cheer had been bled away by the dreary relentlessness of winter. “Then. “I can take care of myself.” Vane looked at Matt. “We’ll go this way.” I said.” Matt nodded. “But not how you really feel. I stalked to the door. Both managed to get under my skin so easily. “I’ll go with you.” “That is what you say. there’s a backdoor. a small door stood. “Keep her out of trouble. “If there’s a garden. “You ran away. Why did he have to understand me so well? He and Vane. Ryan. You need more training. “You don’t need to baby me.” Grey volunteered.” Matt said to the guardians.” I made a face. Vane and Grey crossed to the entrance. Matt motioned me toward it.now.” He walked to the small door.” “I’ll take the front.” “I’ve heard that before.

pulling him closer— As quickly as the images had flashed. Black blobs of dark matter popped in. With his other hand. He let out a choked sound. It took me a second to center myself back in the scent shop. Heat weakened my bones. My face mashed against his ribs. Soaps and bottles floated in mid-air. and around us.annoying. I walked straight into a shelf. giving us enough light to look around. The faint aura of blue magic sparkled in low light. following him.” .” I muttered. out. Images flooded into my mind. I whispered. “The hallway.” Matt pointed to the opposite end of the room and started walking to it. In the dark. straight out of slasher movie. Every nerve on end. Anyone of them could have hidden the fanged face of a bloodthirsty gargoyle. kissing like there would be no tomorrow. I realized I was panting. A medley of innocuous scented candles and soaps had been laid out in neat rows on shelves all around the small space. I slammed into his chest. His hands skimmed across the bare skin of my chest. “Matt. I inhaled a breath of amber and earth. the smell of morning dew dripping on tender leaves across a green lawn. they stopped. Matt’s hand glowed a faint blue. forcing me to hold even tighter onto Matt. Matt and I lay on the floor. We entered a small room. he righted the wobbling shelf. Both naked. My fingers tangled in his hair. “Strange place for a candleshop. Matt stopped my fall by jerking me up by my shirt with one hand.

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NYMPH’S LURE CHAPTER 5 NYMPH’S LURE .CHAPTER 5 .

I stared at him. We crossed what looked like a kitchen to a narrow hallway. Excalibur’s hilt gleamed under a ray of moonlight that penetrated through a small window. I could tell he was embarrassed. The sinister shadows of the storeroom closed in and I expected a gargoyle to leap out at me at any second. I pushed away from him. Just behind me. With another blue shimmer of magic. or he just sensed my nervousness. Matt returned the floating soaps and bottles to the shelf. An array of fine little soaps and bottles lay scattered around the floor. It shimmered with a faint blue glimmer that always preceded Matt’s magic and the blade lengthened into a sword. I wished I had Excalibur. why did my heart still race? Matt put a finger to his mouth. He’d already chosen his path and it didn’t include me. another shelf had been knocked over. The images lingered in my mind. Matt touched my shoulder. I scooted along behind him.“I’m sorry. “You actually brought it?” I thought to him. My stomach knotted. a warm hand easing the cold given off the barren room.” He headed out of the room. “You said it was to convince . “I brought Excalibur to Boston for this in the first place. He drew out a knife and gave it to me. Carefully. Whether it was our connection through the amulet. From his tone.” “Aren’t you always?” I thought back. Vane. The ceiling creaked under the weight of someone walking above us. Then. I took a step and winced as glass burst under my boot heels. So had I.

. A fireball flew straight at him. He stepped into the light. His lips curled with cruel satisfaction. I would have made you see reason without it. One stayed behind at the door. Matt raised his hand with a spinning fireball in it.” In the dark. I let out a scream and dropped Excalibur.” Oliver glanced at me. “Ryan!” Matt caught me as I fell backwards. One of the figures let loose a wave of purple magic that hit the fire-laden wall and the flames doused. but part of the fireball slammed into my side. Two figures ran forward. “Matt!” I cried and threw myself in front of him. “You’ll set this whole tinderbox on fire and bring it down on us. hundred-year old paneling. “Oliver.” Matt said grimly. Three shadowy figures stood at the end of the hallway. My skin burned. it will be worth my while to see her suffer. Matt deflected this one back to whoever shot it. Another fireball whizzed down the hallway at us. just past the door leading out of it. “If nothing else.” He stepped out into the hallway. Flames spread.” Pain threatened to blind me. but I forced my eyes to focus. The whole house shook from the impact. greedily devouring the delicate. protecting their back.” “I didn’t need it to do that. Matt let out a stream of blue magic to deflect it. “Merlin.me to go back.” one of figures said. They sidestepped the fireball and let it hit a wall behind them. I stuck out my tongue at his back. There was barely enough room for the two of us in the tight space. “I saw that.

Merlin?” Oliver taunted. Oliver’s face transformed. “Looking for some help. Matt put me on the ground and stepped over me.Matt held me close to him.” Vane’s voice traveled down the tight . Excalibur lay between the gargoyles and us. The gargoyle exploded into a million little bits. I barely felt it. gargoyle? Because I’m afraid it has been delayed… permanently. Matt’s hold on the sword slipped. “What will you choose. Forehead and fangs extended. With a drained sigh. Excalibur flew back into Matt’s hands. “Save the girl or save the sword?” The other gargoyle took a step toward the sword. Oliver’s sword flew out of his hand. Matt sank to his knees. Oliver cursed. A brilliant blue light emanated from Matt and focused like a laser at the gargoyle. “Your turn. He raised both hands at the gargoyle. The other gargoyle beside Oliver grabbed Excalibur. Merlin. floating it in the air. Matt tried to grab Excalibur.” A gurgle came from the other gargoyle further down the hallway. The sword zigzagged back and forth between us. “We got it!” In a blink. His beast came out. Oliver held up an amulet and battled him for it. Matt sank down further until he sat on the ground. Matt waved his palm. I barely felt anything. Oliver turned his head to see a sword go through the other gargoyle’s stomach. He held up a sword and pulled back to take a swing. The burn at my side intensified and I gasped. The burning pain on my side obliterated any other sensation.

“Dammit. “Hold on.” I rasped.” he said.” He put a hand right over the charred area. he ran into the kitchen right past us. A faint red glow spread from his hand. he shoved the third gargoyle. I .” The words came out as barely a whisper. my ass. Let’s see what kind of trouble you’ve gotten into. With a final look at Excalibur. we heard a blast somewhere in the shop. “Go after the gargoyle. you were supposed to take care of her. I blacked out. In the dim light.” Through bleary eyes.” With his foot. Vane started to run after him. Dorothy. Ry. The other guardians burst into the hallway. No seven. Toto.” From beyond the kitchen. I could see Vane’s sword dripping with blood. This time I screamed. “Vane!” Matt said. The guardians thundered past him. “I believe I counted six. Vane let out a forced laugh. Merlin.hallway. Vane crossed Matt to kneel beside me. “Still strong. “I like your ass.” Vane yelled at the guardians. This is going to hurt.” “It’s just a scratch. Even partially hidden behind Matt. I woke up in what must have been just a few minutes time. into a corner of the hallway. I cried out when he touched the edge of the giant hole of melted skin and meat that now made up my side. He whispered a word and low lights flared on inside the hallway. He said. now lying headless on the floor. His fingers shook as he checked my pulse. pointing at the kitchen. “Scratch. Oliver made a sound of frustration. I saw his face peer over Matt. including this one. the grave lines of his face deepened. “Ryan’s hurt.

Not even a burn or scar remained. “Killing the gargoyle drained you?” I doubted another wizard would have been able to do it all. But I still took a chance. “I’ll work on that. “You knew I wasn’t hurt that badly.” My cheeks puffed out. I pushed myself up on my elbows. unless you were… His lips curved up into a small smile.” Silence stretched between us.” He’d chosen. “You seem to be saying that a lot lately. Finally.” Oliver’s words rang in my head. “It’s just that… your thoughts are loud. “I’m sorry. “I am Merlin.” I made a face.still lay in the hallway.” Vane marched into the hallway. he said. “Ready to go home.” he said.” “Luckily. I was there to clean up your mess. but my skin felt smooth. I glanced at him out of the corner of my eyes.” I snapped.” My head against the wall. He helped me sit up. “They went to check the rest of the house.” “I’m sorry. “Where did everyone go?” I asked as I touched my burned side. You knew you could heal me later. “Save the girl or save the sword. .” “Yes. Making something that big explode was supposed to be impossible. Dim light wavered from sconces. My coat and shirt were beyond repair. Ryan?” “What? You found… whatever it was?” I said. He dropped down beside me and cupped my face. “I had to save Excalibur. Matt sat next to me.” “Stop reading my mind. We sat side-by-side in the hallway alone. We did come here for a purpose.

For a second.Vane shrugged. “We’ve searched every corner of this house. Grey can take you home.” I rolled my eyes. They discovered it later. but we will. but I managed to stay upright. But it’s where all these cold drafts and odd feelings are supposed to have originated. once I made the connections. “Did you find anything?” Vane shook his head.” Matt rubbed his jaw. “Nice play. It didn’t mention any such staircase. Behind me. Coach. House of the Seven Gables. but from the corner of my eye.” Vane gave me a sheepish look. “Did you look in the secret staircase?” I said. Vane squeezed my waist. I thought I would tip over and fall on top of him. “What secret staircase? I read that whole book.” I put my hand on his shoulders and hoisted myself up. Vane braced himself for just that. “No. Pulling me close to him.” “Or me. Hawthorne didn’t know about it.” Vane said in a no-nonsense tone. by what’s-his-name. “I didn’t bother to read further.” “Stop ordering me around. “Oliver wouldn’t have tried to get Excalibur if he had. Vane frowned. Do you think that dog of a gargoyle found it?” “I don’t think so. You’ve risked yourself enough. “Good. “What a good researcher you are.” I patted his shoulder and started down the hallway. toward . Matt got up slowly.” I muttered. I noticed a small smile.” I said. Other than the strange layout of the place. I haven’t seen anything remotely haunting.

. Matt halted at the room’s threshold. Hidden secrets lurked behind the young girl’s mud-colored eyes. “What do you see?” “She lived here most of her life and even died here. Grey ducked as one flew straight at him. Matt stepped right into one and let it pass through him. but kept walking. they remained intact—a reminder that the house had powers of its own. A sheen of glimmering white blobs floated around in the room. “Do you feel the heat in here?” “Darzayati raga. Grey and the other guardians stood gathered in the room past the hallway—a dining room. “Susan Ingersoll. I stared at the picture for a minute.” Matt said. “Hot and cold.” he said at my back. Matt came up beside me. Residual energy from old magic.” Vane mocked. But all I could think about was how lonely she looked. “Still want Grey to take me home?” “Don’t get smug. instinctively touching my side.the center of the house. “I would have known about the secret staircase. A tinge of blue covered his face. who just allowed the damsel to rescue him. Porcelain dishes and plates had been set up on a long wooden table as if expecting dinner guests.” Grey said.” “Creepy.” Vane said. Vane and Matt followed.” I said. “Yes. the Mighty Merlin. She’s the one who supposedly haunts this place. Amazingly after all the ruckus. Swiss cheese. I winced.” A circle of white light surrounded a portrait of a sad-faced girl.

“Emrys. The part that scared me like nothing else.” one of the guardians said. *** A scream flew down the staircase with the strength of a banshee’s shrill cry and blasted us. “That will not be your fate. “A warning. It highlighted the steep steps of the staircase that had barely enough room for one. The wind threw Matt back against Vane who stood directly behind him. Matt stepped back. The scream faded. Penetrating the abyss. dammit.” Matt corrected him. “The staircase is there. Matt held Excalibur at his side. I asked Matt. As soon as Matt was out of the closet. It creaked ajar to reveal a small closet. Do you think she gave up her whole life to protect this place?” Matt squeezed my shoulder. come up with something better. The part Matt and Vane kept trying to bring forward.“She never left. The pressure on my eardrums threatened to make them bleed. “The ghost. He took a step forward. Everyone slapped their hands to their ears. “Do you feel a draft?” Matt took a step into the closet.” Grey said. “How did you do that?” “I didn’t. a single ray of light shone from above.” Vane opened the door. Pieces of cut wood decorated the sides and beyond stood an abyss lined in brick.” he answered.” “Won’t it?” I said. I pointed to a small door just to the side of the portrait. Part of me yearned to have it. Vane came up beside us. the scream stopped. The light sparkled with dusty glitter. . It called us forward. I hadn’t taken it back. The scream blasted us again.

I took the first step onto the stairwell. A breath straight from the mouth of the Arctic Ocean seemed to blow down the stairs.” said Vane. I took the lamp. The oil lamp flared to life. not a ghost. A quilt covered a narrow bed and a .” Vane said.” “Stop delaying. He motioned for me to go first. all ghost-busters carry flashlights. he shoved me into the closet. Vane followed. The stairs led to a small. Vane shrugged. I shivered and wrapped my hands around myself. Excalibur warmed in my hand. it winked and disappeared. I started climbing. It found the broken line of my coat where I’d gotten hurt.” Vane murmured. Keeping Excalibur close to my chest. “A trace of her essence may have mixed with the spell. Matt came after him. “I thought you said it was a spell. You did say she spent most of her life here. Then. but for once. “Did you smell water?” “No. The wind shifted. It was heavier than it looked. Before I could protest. “Your turn. A gust blew against me. “She likes you.” He took an oil lamp that sat in an open cubby in the closet and blew a tiny fireball into it.” Matt handed Excalibur to me. my amulet remained cold on my neck. Instantly the air changed.He stood by the dining table rubbing his ears. It seeped in through the hole and swam around inside my clothes until it had touched every bit of my skin. The wind sniffed at my covered ankles and swam over my clothes. “Next time.” I whispered. Vane watched Matt. The stairway lay open. A faint scent of salty ocean air tickled my nostrils. Swallowing. neatly set-up bedroom. coming up behind me. DuLac. No scream sounded.

“I smell it again—the ocean. “I don’t sense anything here. I raised Excalibur in the air. Matt stood in the doorway. Shadows covered the walls.small window.” Matt took the lamp from me. Grey and I crossed a slanted passageway to a tiny. Matt told them to remain in the room. unfinished space with thick beams on the roof and slats of rough wood on the walls. “The air does not invite us in.” Two other guardians had followed us up the stairs.” There was a “duh” at the end of that statement that I resented. “Let’s go. Matt raised a brow. It squeaked as it swung back and forth. Feeling really dumb. Matt. A miniature model of the house sat on the other side. I wondered if this were the room I thought I’d seen the wavering light in from outside. Grey tripped over a rocker on one side.” Cold wind wrapped around us. Vane glanced around the quiet room. Susan. Hello. “Susan. “Darzayati. “How exactly am I supposed to do that?” I hissed.” “There’s supposed to be an unfinished attic somewhere around here.” I said.” Vane said as he stepped into the room.” Matt instructed me. Grey came in after Matt. It pushed us all to the center . “There’s a passageway here.” “Call her. Vane. making it hard to see anything. are you here?” Matt whispered. “Use the sword. We’re in the right place. He moved to the side and put out a hand to lean on the wall and almost fell through.

Except . “Ryan!” Matt thought to me. My hands over my ears. I saw the hint of a girl in a gown in one. “There is more here. between my world and hers. This time. I peered beyond myself. So much more.of the room. Matt and Grey stood on either side of me in a circle. Out of nowhere. Beside me.” The ghost girl told me as she appeared at my side. It meant nothing. moving within the shadows of the attic. I pushed out at the wind with my hands and crossed to the girl. she swam. No. “Hello. water flooded the attic. Hot. soft and filmy. It filled the attic like one would fill a fish tank. the ghost girl swam straight into me. I saw the other side. Matt. crossing my fingers that he could hear me. and opened her mouth. She peered out from behind a beam. Where I was no longer existed. “Wait!” Under the water. My back lined up to Vane’s. Cold. My amulet glowed weakly. Water. fit for a princess. I forgot to breathe. As much as you can imagine. The scream sounded again.” I said to the girl in white. Beside me. I crossed the veil. “She’s swimming. I let the water carry me to the top where it stopped with only a foot of air remaining. I wore a beautiful white gown. Vane and Grey were also on their knees. Air. I realized. A brilliant white light winked in and out. so shrill it threatened to break every window in the house… along with every bone in our bodies.” I thought to Matt. Matt gave a small nod. I sank down into the water. The wind intensified and tried to slam us down to the floor. The girl floated in the air. She smiled. Beyond the veil. I fell to my knees.

” “Only if she wants to. Her eyes narrowed. “It’s her. She didn’t have much energy. I thought I saw a hint of sharp fangs hiding underneath red lips. She got tired. fell down to her waist. “What are you doing here? You should not be able to cross.” The trident? I glanced at Matt. Her eyes seemed an endless liquid blue. you will leave. “If I bring you the trident.” It was a challenge. He didn’t look at me. I am not she. If you can convince her. The girl smiled. The girl nodded. The girl sulked.” She turned to me. She’s the one I’ve been waiting for. but it didn’t reach her eyes. She also wore a diaphanous gown that flowed around to her ankles. We can have so much fun.” . “Of course. I didn’t ask you here. He held onto my wrist with a tight grip. “So strong.” Matt said from behind me. a lustrous brown. “But you do.” Matt said. Whatever he was up to had better work.” “Agreed. She sees me.” “We’ve come for what belongs to us. Her expression eased. He still wore his biker jacket and the same black pants. Her hair. “He told me never to tell. But we did play… for awhile. eyes softening. Her form was as solid as mine. but I have been here so long. He promised I wouldn’t be alone forever.she no longer looked like a ghost. “Susan?” “No.” The girl’s wide gaze locked on me. “And you will let her stay. The girl’s face twisted into a livid expression.” She inhaled deeply.” he said.” “I’m not letting her go until you bring what is ours.

but it refused to come more than halfway out.“No. “I hate that ugly little place. The slats had been placed in a neat pattern. As soon as it was close enough. started sinking into its vortex. She pointed to some slats of wood in the wall. Water sank into the cupboard as if we’d opened a plugged drain. Matt let himself get pulled close to the vortex. I’ve been waiting so long. you won’t be alone anymore. Grey grabbed a beam to anchor himself. including us.” “Yes.” Matt prompted. metal lance with three prongs—a trident. The cupboard closed and the slats of wood . He tugged at it. and the water receded quickly. He swam to Matt. The girl appeared in her ghostly form. “I suppose there is no help for it. and in a glimmer of blue magic. He reached as close as he could to the apex of the vortex.” She sighed. Vane grabbed it and me.” “It’s in the attic.” In a blink. An explosion of green light filled us. The slats of wood peeled out. but the portal was built there. Matt grabbed it with his hand. he floated out a part of a rusty. Vane secured my hand to Grey’s. Water swirled around us with fury. Vane frowned questioningly. I pointed at Matt. Matt put his hand out. The drain cleared. like opening a cupboard. All the loose items in the attic. “But I’ve hidden it for so long. I tightened my hold on him. They pulled out the trident together. “You were told this day would come. We must go back.” the girl nodded eagerly. we were in the attic again. He put out his hand. The girl shivered. Water still filled it.” said Matt. Vane moved to go after him.

Her brown hair sparkled in the warm breeze. It felt cloudy. Cold fell away. She floated into me. The girl with brown hair took my chin. A voice called. If you go. He called from what seemed to be a long way away. Matt. All we have to do is jump down. Now you won’t be. The ghost girl floated to a stop in front of me. You were afraid.” I looked below me. Chattering in soft chirps.” I touched my head.” “Ryan!” Matt ran toward me. but there was something important I knew I should remember. It was a long way down. “My turn. “You don’t belong there. She grabbed my hand.” “Ryan. I shivered under its cold weight. Warm blue water lapped against a sunny beach. Never again. Several dolphins played in the shallow water. Do you see the beach? It’s where we play.” “Who?” I said. I passed through the veil. The girl laughed. Alone. We’ll go together. I glanced behind me. Just watch the water. The warm sun of a never-ending sky shone down on me. “Can you hear their call? They want us to come. They jumped and sprayed each other. She pointed me to the beach. I struggled to place it. “I’ll be with you the whole way. Don’t listen to her. “Forget your worries. you’ll never be able . they frolicked without a worry in the world. The girl pointed below us. “Ryan. We dropped to the floor of the attic. I stood at the edge of a rocky cliff.” My amulet whispered. Again. A faint blue light shimmered in the shape of a doorway.replaced themselves. our clothes drenched.

Like them. That’s where we belong. I couldn’t form another thought. forget him. though I couldn’t remember whose it was—pounded at the back of my head like a persistent mosquito. but beyond the smell of the water and warmth of the beach. we’ll never worry about anything.” “Vane. And who was Ryan? I tried to focus. He waved from the doorway.” I took a step closer to the edge of the cliff.to come back. I turned back to the door to see the faint image of a young man with dark hair and broody too-old eyes. . “No. The girl grabbed my wrist. Look at the dolphins. wearing a slim collarless jacket.” A voice—familiar. I’m losing her.

CHOICES CHAPTER 6 CHOICES .CHAPTER 6 .

The ocean called me home. moving it with surprising speed and skill. I took a step off the precipice.” he said. no one will. “You tricked me. Water lapped in graceful waves on the soft-sand beach. At the precipice. The world shook. Behind me. Home is here. Without you. “You can’t leave me alone!” “She’s made her choice.” she screamed. Behind the façade of a young girl. “Ryan. “DuLac. I looked back. Her face morphed.” Broody-Eyes said. Beside Broody-Eyes. and freed myself.” An arrogant voice said from the door. If I can’t have her. the rocks that made up the cliff trembled. She snarled at us. It rose . “Dorothy. “No.” The serene blue sky changed into red.” Broody-Eyes told the girl. you’re mine. The pristine water changed to lava. the hag raised her hands. another slightly older boy with similar dark hair and compelling eyes gave me a cold glare.” I tugged at my wrist.” “You’re not very nice. it’s not home.” Arrogant-Voice said more softly. Beneath me.” I turned my wrist.” Brother. “She’s mine. get back here. “Come back and you’ll remember. “Grey needs you.The girl beside me smiled.” the girl cried.” “She’s happier with me. “Come back. he’ll end up a TV addict with a beer gut. I bit my lip. I started walking toward the door. Your brother needs you. The brown-haired girl tightened her grip until it dug into my skin. “We’re going to be so happy. a hag with fangs hid.

My mind opened another crack and again. shot forward. “Ryan?” A warm hand touched the top of my head. Arrogant-Voice. My murdered mother. I cringed away from him. She let out a screeching wail.” Broody-Eyes commanded. My dead mother.” “Brother. The arrow pierced the creature. Immediately the fog clouding my mind lifted. Your brother.” I repeated. Emotions threatened to suffocate me. “Ryan. Lava. I cried out.up in the air in one long column. Without thinking. Why had I agreed to remember this? I fought for air. *** I landed face down on the attic floor with a thud. directing the wave at me. A tremendous force pushed down on me as memories rushed back. Letting the sword drop.” Arrogant-Voice put a hand out. The hag threw her arms forward. He held out his hand. I used my palms to sit up. The door winked in and out of existence on the open rock. Broody-Eyes put a sword in my hand. The athletic boy knelt in front of me.” I leaped at the door. A bow and arrow appeared in my hand. I blinked at the three anxious faces watching me. it’s Grey. Grey grabbed me in a tight hug. I aimed at the hag and let the arrow fly. A sharp surge of pain overwhelmed me. I looked up. “Jump. in the shape of a hand. I grabbed my head to stop the images. “It’ll be okay. “Shoot her. My mind still clouded by the other world. I saw a laughing woman with kind eyes—my mother. “I’ll catch you. the rush of memories forced themselves through.” . The cliff started to crumble.

“Charged with protecting this. Matt frowned. I remembered his name was Matt—replied.” He held up the trident. “What the hell did you bargain?” He barked at the remaining boy. “What happened to the girl?” I asked. “I should kick your ass. And desire.” Pulling me away from Grey. The time of the Greek Gods was much earlier than Camelot. Bit by bit the memory of him centered me. I was sure I would be able to pull Ryan back—” “Except you weren’t able. I looked up at him. “It’s the next piece of the puzzle.” Matt said.” “Do you?” another voice demanded. I can feel it. Minutes later. “Not what. but whose. “I’m not sure of the exact nature of those ties though. but I heard the worry now. “The nymph?” . “Poseidon?” “Greek God of the Sea? It could be. “It’s alright.My brother.” “What is it?” I asked. “It had to be done. or maybe an hour (I actually had no idea how long). “What was that thing?” “A nymph. I remember you.” he said. I’m alright. The Lady had ties to the Greeks. or seconds. I repeated it over and over again in my head. I hadn’t heard it in his angry tone before. I forced myself to push away from Grey.” Broody-Eyes—no. my nerves slowly quieted.” Vane said.” “You have no idea what this means.” Matt took a breath.” Vane’s arms tightened around me. “She traded it for Ryan. The answers lies with this. he picked me up in his arms.” Vane spat. “Your name is Vane.

How do we know he didn’t just send him in?” Vane said. I laid my head against Vane’s chest. One took out his phone. Matt turned to Vane. but couldn’t enter. He put it to his ear. He may have an idea who this belongs to.” Matt said.” “Fine. Matt picked up Excalibur from the floor in the other. I’ll take her to my place. That’s why she was so desperate to make the trade. “Whoever made her safeguard this has left her alone for centuries.” The guardians’ eyes fell on the trident. “Oliver was the one who attacked us.” “Zusyati Marsti.” Matt commanded. “We found what we came for.” “We’re done here. One looked at us anxiously. “I don’t like that thing.” “You still want to meet him after tonight? Oliver is supposed to be under Rourke’s control. “But Ryan’s not going to be there. “Don’t judge it by the nymph. In a brief conversation.” I stared at the trident. “We heard noises.” I opened my mouth to protest. She won’t be coming back. Not Rourke. We don’t know what its purpose is. “I shot her. “We need to meet him. The guardians from the other room rushed inside. Matt returned his gaze steadily.“She’s dead.” The trident in one hand. but the furious way he . renewing and restoring it. crowding the tiny attic. Wind whirled around the drenched attic. Our clothes dried too.” Vane’s fingers tightened around me.” “You rescued her.” Matt corrected. he asked to get picked up.” Vane said. They nodded.

not a soul wandered in the cul-de-sac parking lot. “No.” *** Vane drove down a one-lane street past a huge pond and into an apartment complex just outside Concord. I had not been in his flat at Avalon Prep either. I had yet to . “I like being up high. As late as it was. you can’t. a sense of anticipation went through me. “Let’s get out of this hole. “The further away she is.” “I’ll stay with Mom. “There’s still a portal here. I gave the eerie attic one last look as we entered the passageway. Matt laughed.” “I can walk—” I started. he replied. Gorgeous trees dusted with fresh snow provided shelter for the cars. as if he dared me to test him. but he nodded. I found myself curious and a little apprehensive. I had seen his office at Avalon Prep—a large room with a mind-boggling number of flat screen TVs. Matt didn’t look thrilled. had me shutting it. The tourists will be speculating about cold drafts for as long as this place stands. When I commented on it. the better. A thin strip had been cleared in the foot-deep snow leading up the walkways to buildings.” Grey said to me. We hadn’t risked it because we couldn’t be seen together. We took the elevator to the third floor. “Does this mean the house isn’t haunted anymore?” Walking behind us. although I’d lived just across from him after my dorm got burned (long story).” As we reached the door. I could see the dark outline of slumbering woods just behind the complex. Vane marched towards the attic’s exit. I’d never been to his place.watched me.” he said.

He bowed and motioned me to enter. The fridge contained mostly meat and beer. not going to happen. you agreed. A gorgeous kitchen with granite countertops housed the latest appliances. Vane waved his hand across the knob to unlock the door. glass-doored refrigerator. Ever. The apartment was spotless.” “Do you even carry a key?” I took a step inside. “We can stop by the house after the meeting if you want. “Catch up.” “What about school?” . However. modern. but it doesn’t impact you yet. the centerpiece was a set of glass doors that showed off a balcony with a view of the serene waters of the pond. and without any pretension. but it’ll have to be quick—” “What?” I squawked. We’ll figure out what it means and then bring you in. of course. You’ll be safest at Avalon Prep until then.” I watched him zap some fish while fresh lemons cut themselves.” He started taking out a few packages of food from a huge.” “Only if I met with Rourke—” “After tonight. “If you recall. We head back to Avalon Prep tomorrow.” Vane said as he walked into the kitchen. DuLac. “What about the trident? You are going to leave it in Matt’s hands?” “Of course not. “We’ve got a morning flight. My eyes widened. “Why bother?” Vane waved a hand and low sconces flickered on.be completely alone with Vane. High-end electronics took up the living room. “Milady.

Vane waved his hand and the dishes floated into the dishwasher. Sipping a beer.” My forehead furrowed. A thin door stood closed. I yawned again. but my stomach grumbled and I started eating instead. shaking up the contents inside and then opened itself as Vane handed me a bowl. Vane watched me with amusement. You’ve got the week off.” I glanced out the glass doors. The dishwasher buzzed on. “What day is it?” “Friday. Vane put a glass of iced tea in front of me. I noticed he stocked iced tea. “Why don’t you want me to see your bedroom?” The hard line of his chest expanded and fell. “Do you want to join me in it?” Whoa. A dull moon hung low in the sky. In minutes. he went to the lone closet in the living room and withdrew a pillow and blanket. I yawned. probably Saturday. I devoured the contents of my plate.” He pointed me to a corner just to the left.” He served the fish onto two plates. my favorite.” I should have been getting mad at his high-handedness. He dumped them on a short leather sofa. His mouth curved into a leer. Vane appeared in front of me to block the way.Vane gave me a smug smile. “Well.” “Winter recess. “Bathroom. “We’ve got at least that long before anyone worries about where you are. “That way. when I knew he wasn’t an iced tea kind of guy. I walked toward a darkened door. The fish was perfect. Conflicting waves of desire and danger shot though . A packet of salad on the counter flopped around. I frowned at him. In a blink.

Or as the prom-haters dubbed it. the next game. All of the Candidates identified to pull the sword from the stone had been living with the idea of certain death for months. The thing was that none of us ever expected to survive. the burden of the sword. I’d had enough of water. The door was closed. The uncertainty that came with not knowing what it meant for the future. “Little Mermaid. I crossed three steps to the bedroom. I opened the bathroom door. I had pulled the sword from the stone and now I had to deal with what that meant—my life hanging at the edge of the blade. After tonight. In the bathroom. just for one second. we had survived. I had already put a deposit down on a place in Boston.me. I wished I could wash away my own thoughts so easily. No matter how much I wanted it.” he mumbled and gave me a small push toward the other door. I washed my face with force. How wonderful it had been to forget.” Ironic. My heart beat slowly. the trial itself had killed every Candidate who tried to pull the sword. and putting on the prom. nothing was going to be normal again. The committee and I had finally picked a theme too—Under the Sea. I needed to see Vane. The biggest worry in my life was supposed to be college. Every nerve strummed in one mournful note—I wished I’d never seen the other world. “I thought not. I flung it . Suddenly. I’d spent the last few months hiding from that truth. If I had a future. My over-sensitized skin tingled at the spots where Vane’s fingers had gripped me. Without another thought. Before the Council had pulled us in to train. Well. I must have stared too long because he grabbed my shoulders and turned me around. I needed an anchor in the chaos.

barely-there. Concord. hung pictures of me at school. I saw one with Grey’s name. The sound of running water from Vane’s bathroom penetrated my haze. It rejected it. It was log of his assessments of our training. To the right. However. The whole setup seemed more pallet than bed. To the left. In all of them. a ton of folders popped up. Avalon Prep. pictures showed me training at the gym in Ragnar Manor. Vivane. I flipped it open. I opened a note file at the bottom. one wall had about a hundred pictures of me on the lacrosse field. past the opening of the en-suite bathroom. Lamps around the room showcased a… simple twin mattress. Every single Candidate I knew had a folder.open.” I muttered under my breath. I moved quickly. On the desktop. The screen prompted me for the password. A low. Video files went back to when we’d started training at Avalon Prep. a chart stated eighty-five percent readiness. On the wall with the door. a highlighted note stated “twenty . “Nice password. eight-by-tens of me in the same pose at various places— Texas. In the middle. I typed in one word. The screen dinged with happy acceptance. I stopped. At the bottom. I seemed to be staring off at some unseen object. By the chart. and London. but continued as late as yesterday. I flipped open the computer. They were all labeled neatly. I typed in its variation. above a massive desk with a lone computer. wooden stand held up the mattress. The long length of the wall made it seem even smaller. Wall-to-wall pictures of me surrounded the space. Going to his desk. talking with friends. that wasn’t what arrested me to the spot.

” Vane straightened from the door. He pointed at Oliver’s folder.” A folder on Oliver was red-flagged. but I wasn’t fooled. could you?” Vane’s voice made me jump. The same thing. “You just couldn’t resist. The highlighted note stated “substitution possible.” “Yet. Seventy-five percent readiness. I opened my folder next.percent substitution likeness.” “You’re studying me. I shut the lid of the laptop with a click. I moved the cursor to click on it. A glitter deep in his pupils told me he was poised to strike. You’re figuring out who can replace me. wearing just a towel. “I pulled out Excalibur. I opened his notes. Substitute me. “Had enough?” He leaned against the wall in a casual stance. “Ninety . I forced them open.” Vane flipped open the laptop and punched a key. They didn’t. “Tell me.” I muttered.” His easy admittance took the heat out of my words. leaving me with the awful remainder.” “Candidate is the correct word. yes.” I spat. He stood at the entrance of the bathroom. “Why the stalk-a-razi?” “Why do you think?” I ground my teeth. He stalked toward me. “I’m looking at the likely possibilities. “Why?” “Because it is still entirely possible to defeat you. My eyes closed as if to shut out the hurt. And I want to know who would be the most likely candidate.” I went back to the desktop. “I have a good idea. I raised my chin. there is still the possibility.

he could actually succeed at taking the sword from you.” “How?” I said. invited my touch. Vane’s dark hair spiked up at odd angles. You’re not. Exactly what prize had I won? Being so close together should have thrilled me. “We can’t take the sword. He inclined his head. His smooth skin. yet I couldn’t get past the hollow nothingness I sensed widening inside. It’s not going to be good enough. They could hurt. Do you know what that means? He has the ability and the motive. I glanced around at the pictures. I was the Candidate. Did he want to be near me . Even though I had figured it out myself. the hard lines of six-pack abs. You barely even want to touch it. but if you get killed… who knows? Or maybe just defeat you. but it was for a reason and if you don’t accept that you could doom us all. Ninety percent likeness. It emphasized his bold cheekbones. The dummy who’d won the prize. Hearing it somehow made it sting more. I wasn’t a person. “I don’t know for certain.” Words. remember? We were disqualified a long time ago. If he wants to.” Vane’s lips curved up. its perfection broken only by a puckered scar just above his heart. You’re resisting it.percent readiness. My eyes traveled over his bare chest.” “You and Matt can defeat me. Each one mocked me. even with Excalibur in your hands. We do not yet know why the sword has returned.” “Why am I seventy-five percent?” “The possibility would be much slimmer if you were truly bonded with the sword. Even though I knew he spoke nothing but the truth.

Only one person could evoke such panic. Mid-morning sunlight streamed in with cheerful vibrancy through small square openings in the walls. As First Member. *** The Wizard’s Council gathered in a small room just beyond the Great Hall in Camelot. Foolish hope. but I had hoped. and every knight had been called to arms. Vane… I didn’t know.” he said softly. The Council was to elect how many wizards would be sent with the knights. Instead I’d experienced a frightful vision the night before and had to know if it were true. Servants in grey uniforms with small sashes of colorful red went back and forth between the bedrooms.or want to be near the sword? Matt had made his preference clear tonight. “Why did you come in here?” “It doesn’t matter. I dreaded it was. I stopped at the door. at my back.” I stepped past the threshold into the living room. “Ryan. Two knights who guarded Arthur’s chambers saluted me as I walked past. King Arthur was sequestered at the Round Table through the night. It was said an immortal king led the aggressors. I turned and started to walk out of the bedroom. My heart hammered with fear. Half the city would be empty by the afternoon. The knights readied to defend the kingdom against an invading army from the east. but I tried not to lie to myself. They would make up part of the front lines. I gave them a small nod. I could only hold . I should have been sitting at its head. I hurried through the main keep of the castle. The great and powerful Merlin wasn’t supposed to dread anything.

” “Why do you hate him? He has only given you what you wanted. The tapestry fell back into place. “Are you really that naïve? He sends the wizards out without thought. It remained empty. but they are not even acknowledged by the court. A passageway led to a dead end that held only a decorative tapestry from floor to ceiling at its middle.” Vane shrugged. You are First Member of the Council.” he sneered. Sweat covered him in a fine film.” Vane frowned. A hint of lavender wafted from a crumpled shirt. yet you are barely acknowledged and only as an advisor. I may as well put his nose out before I do. He read my thoughts easily. I pointed out. but what have we gotten in return? I might be a knight. My heart sank when the tapestry moved. I rounded the corner. “Your trews are loose. “Would be a good show. The stone door shut behind him. I stood there for a few minutes. It was a wonder they hadn’t fallen to his knees already.” he grinned. Hoping against hope to be wrong.onto the false hope that what I’d seen wasn’t true. “What are you thinking? You’re a knight!” I glanced at the corridor. but I am the only one. “Merlin. He took his time tying them. Nonetheless. A figure pushed the heavy fabric aside and walked out of a hidden door.” I said evenly. We were supposed to bring the Council out into the light by now. when you . He stopped when he saw me.” Vane looked down at his navel and smiled arrogantly. “She’s the Queen! Arthur will have you drawn and quartered. I lowered my tone. “Skulking about the castle again?” “Vane. “Apparently I am set to die anyway.

“What are you planning.” He pointed at the corridor.” My eyes narrowed. Move too fast and you will see nothing but intolerance. This last vision filled me with a deep sense of foreboding. It was one of the great frustrations of my life.” Vane tried to move past me. I had never been able to follow my brother’s thinking. We need to have patience. How can this be the Camelot we were promised he would bring? We will always be hiding in the shadows. I caught his arm.” Vane muttered. I should get to the armory before all the good swords are taken. “Arthur tells Guinevere everything. “Why are you with Guinevere?” “I told you.” “Does he? I wouldn’t know.” I searched Vane’s expression. When are you going to realize he will never make room for our people in his kingdom? He has delayed every edict that would give our people any power. They can’t even own land. but it told me nothing. forcing him to pause. “Platitudes without action. Apparently. Only the visions saved me from complete blindness. I have another battle to fight today. Now. You’ve built this kingdom for him. “I have little time to plan. He had a mind far more devious than I could understand and it kept him one step ahead. On our blood. Vane?” He snorted. if you will pardon me.” I shook my head. “You need to remember those people out there are not yours. You’re the one who brought all the nobles together under one banner. We are usually quite… busy . Change comes slowly.make every strategy. “It is not like that—the people must accept us.

Vane sauntered down the passageway. only to find Vane standing by the car.” I wished I could believe him.” His eyes sharpened. brother.” With a crooked smile. The funny thing was that it didn’t seem like a dream. Making as little noise as possible.” “Maybe. It took me another two minutes to get to the SUV.m. Vane had put the car keys on the kitchen bar. Vane didn’t reply. We shall see if today is a good day for me to die. I could have stood within Camelot. I pulled the boots on in the hall outside. Matt. but I’m also right.. I remembered all the details. “But then I’m not the one who gave her such a powerful charm. “Don’t worry. Arthur asked me to make it—” I broke off when I realized he was laughing. I could have been there. Who knows? You may yet get lucky. Vane. I know you’re a monk. my cellphone beeped in low tones. I won’t say anything to Arthur.” *** At six a. “Farewell. She never takes the amulet off.with other things.” I told him. Do you like that? Do you like seeing a piece of you on her bare skin? Almost touching her bosom? In front of Arthur? Everyday?” I sputtered. I see how closely you watch her. The sights and sounds of a busy castle. “Do you love her?” Vane gave a love laugh. “I’m going to this meeting. I released him. “Love? I suppose you could call it that. “I-It’s nothing of that sort. Darkness still layered the room. The subtle pattern of the tapestry. “You’re trying to distract me.” he said. The breaking light of dawn bolded the . I gathered my coat and boots. Vestiges of the dream lingered in my mind. I grabbed them and tiptoed out of the apartment.

Maybe he did a little.” A look of disbelief colored his expression. “It would be nice if my boyfriend actually believed in me. “I… disappointed you last night. but Matt was definitely involved.” “Doesn’t he?” Alright. I don’t know why I was having these dreams.” he elaborated. So I answered his instead. “Dream or another vision?” Was that what he was after? I spit out. “Bad dream last night?” I blinked at the unexpected question. “I’m trying to save . I’d combed my hair with my fingers in the dark. The slim-fitting wool coat he wore accentuated the breadth of his shoulders. I sensed disquiet behind the tiger’s eyes. He said silkily. I was a mess. He squeezed it as if he could squeeze out a reply. But it was also a question. I didn’t have the guts to ask the one question burning inside me. What a surprise. I don’t know what he saw.” “I see. by the completely still way he watched me. “And you listened. “Matt has nothing to do with this.gold tones in his hair.” His eyes narrowed. The lean curves of his face seemed serene.” He continued as if I hadn’t answered. “Matt isn’t the one sitting there figuring out when I am most likely to die. However.” He brushed snow off the car handle.” “Like Merlin does. “Dream.” he finished. I sighed. His gaze traveled over me.” “Not really.” Understatement. “You talk in your sleep. Vane grabbed my hand. “You don’t want to tell me more.

” “I am not too young—” I never finished the sentence. I would. It’s about Excalibur. “I see I have been too lenient. Vane?” His eyes narrowed.your life. “I keep forgetting how young you are. “Is this a test?” I looked at him. No more free passes. If you care at all what I think. “I let you go last night. Vane’s hands at my waist squeezed me in response. The brash thrust of his tongue held an underlying edge of desperation. It was a mistake. It must have shown in my face. “I am going to this meeting. but I didn’t care. my lips stung. Vane’s grip tightened on my wrist. I was being ridiculous. I thought you needed time to come to terms with all that’s happened. I’m looking at your vulnerabilities so we can remedy it. I’m going even if I have to walk. I turned away from him. I was wrong. I was tired of everyone else running my life. He said hoarsely. Probably too young. I’m not going to repeat it. Before I knew it. I was asking the question I’d made up my mind not to ask. When he finally released me. Snow fell in fat flakes. Would you rather I just let you delude yourself that everything is fine?” Yes. then you’re going to let me.” I had no idea what he was talking about. highlighting the dark strands of his hair. I licked them. His lips captured mine and his mouth consumed me. Does that answer your question?” I put my hand to his chest. because he smiled suddenly. His heart raced with the speed of .” He gave me a look like I’d lost my mind. It’s always about Excalibur. “Why are you with me. They crashed against the steel line of his jaw and dissolved.

“She always gets what she wants. I met his dark eyes.a fast-breaking wave.” *** Matt’s expression when we entered the manor’s living room did not speak of happiness or approval.” “They’re early. “Are you going to let me in the car?” With a growl.” I returned the hug. He muttered a word I couldn’t make sense of. She gave me a brief. It was enough. For now.” I told her. He glared at Vane who shrugged in response. Vane repeated the word and added what must have been a negative because the alarm started blaring again. but after what Grey told me about last night. Vane?” Matt shouted. glad to be home. “After you. They’re here.” A blaring alarm sounded through the entire manor. I am glad to see you. It was short again. A slight flutter filled the room and the alarm shut off. “Don’t bother. “You look better.” Vane said.” Sylvia got up from the sofa where she and Grey had been sitting. “Blake had to give me a haircut. milady. “What are you doing. but tight hug. “A limo just turned into the woods. echoing mine. Blake and Gia stood together near the fireplace.” Matt cursed. That bastard gargoyle burned most of it off. Vane opened the car door. She returned a crooked smile and ran a hand through her hair. . Matt opened his mouth to sound off. “I wish you had stayed away from this. The front door flung open and Clarence burst in. It hammered my eardrums with relentless force.

if need be. The window splintered into a million pieces. “Just getting ready to fire at the gargoyles. Off!” Matt’s jaw tightened. We all gathered at the window. The limo glided into the circular driveway with languid grace. “The gargoyle’s have reached the first checkpoint. Matt flicked a hand and the alarm turned off. A whoosh of air and the alarm started blaring again.” Vane waved his hand.” He looked at Vane. I slapped my hands over my ears. “Vane! Shut.” Clarence nodded. What do you want us to do. Master Emrys?” “Tell them they’ll be searched before entering… as we’d planned. not a shard landing in the living room. “Bhii. which threatened to start bleeding. They attacked us last night. “They’ll be fired upon if they try anything. It.” Clarence’s pocket beeped. it’s not a game.” Vane declared. I want them to know they’re not exactly guests. I suggest you tell them now. The alarm shut off. The low hum of a sophisticated engine cut with barely a whisper in front of the window. “No. but all of the glass fell outside. “I’m sure you have a way to communicate with them. A man dressed in a dark suit and light shirt got out of the passenger side of the limo. . Vane. He drew out a cellphone. “This is not a game. Putting the phone to his ear.” Clarence looked at Matt with worry.” Vane muttered. Vane shoved me behind him. he walked out of the manor and into the courtyard. He sent Clarence a wry look.Vane went to the front window and pushed out his hand.

He nodded and spoke to Rourke. I recognized one of the bodyguards as well. I mean. at well over six-foot-five. He shook his head slightly. Pulling out a cellphone from his pocket. they patted them down for weapons—magical and non-magical. Ironic. Two other guardians joined Clarence to greet them. put it in the limo. Dark red hair . who in turn. “He wasn’t using a walking stick on the rooftop. We watched Clarence read the text. The bodyguard then held out his hand for Rourke to use as support.” Matt nodded. “You can smell it on him. By greet.“Gargoyle. five in total. Matt picked up on the oddity too. but he gave the walking stick to one of his bodyguards. I frowned.” I looked at him with worry. since Matt and Vane were born more than fifteen hundred years ago and Rourke was just a bit older than Sylvia. “Later. although they didn’t cover him very well since he was the tallest one. Rourke handed Clarence an ebony walking stick.” I frowned. I recognized Rourke right away. I should know —after having dated one for months without knowing it. More than anyone else. “What?” Grey made a face. In the courtyard.” Grey hissed. he reminded me of a berserker or some sort of Norse deity. I glanced at Vane.” he thought to me. The gargoyle king didn’t look happy. I’d seen him on the worst night of my life. He stood in the middle of his bodyguards. “He smells… dirty. The gargoyles didn’t smell any different than other people. the gargoyles emerged from the limo. he texted Clarence. With a shock of long blond hair tied back in a tight ponytail. but his gaze was fixed on what was happening outside. I doubt I would ever forget any detail.

“It’s alright. “Rourke won’t hurt me. You look as stunning as the last time we met.” Rourke smiled. A few other guardians came out of their hiding positions and followed the gargoyles into the manor. The bodyguards frowned. who stood at the center of the front window. Everyone else in the room looked stunned. but Rourke took a slow step closer to Sylvia. Rourke?” Rourke chuckled. “Yes. he tried to kill me with a broadsword.and as much of a giant as Rourke.” His expression turned somber. Finally. “Straight to the point as always. but it was a long time ago. Vane sighed. Clarence led them to the door. he gave me such a frustrated look that I almost smiled. Vane stood beside him. Vane pushed me further behind him to keep as much of himself between the gargoyles and me as possible. including the other gargoyles.” Sylvia put her hand on his arm and stepped out from behind him. Clarence turned to look back at Matt. He put a hand on the . I’ve missed that. Grey.” Grey moved in front of his mother. Rourke’s eyes immediately went to Sylvia as he entered the living room. “I am glad you agreed to see me. Rourke emerged from the circle his bodyguards formed around him. “Why are you here. “Are you sure you want to let them inside?” Matt nodded at Clarence. When I skirted around his reach and moved to stand beside him. We knew each other a long time ago… since before you were born.” “We went to school together.” Sylvia said. The gargoyles had passed screening.

but I had no doubt he’d try again. “It’s not good news. Rourke watched Vane with interest. but I must say I underestimated the lad. Rourke hadn’t heard about what happened in Salem last night. Well. her eyes snapped back to Rourke. “Not only that. “I know I told you I would not bother you unless it became absolutely necessary. it has—” Sylvia’s hands clenched as she pulled her suit jacket tightly around her. Oliver blamed both of us. “He poisoned me. He has vowed vengeance upon your family for the loss of his. “That’s not possible. looking down at the floor.” Rourke looked at me.” . I glanced at Vane. “I vowed I would take control of him. he has escaped me. He plans to usurp me as king. Vane had killed Oliver’s mother to protect me. He leaned closer to me. I’m afraid.” Apparently. Oliver had been thwarted. my son. “What has happened?” “It is Oliver. unless…” Sylvia frowned.back of a sofa that sat between us and leaned on it. Then.” he said. He—” He looked back at Sylvia. “What did he do to you?” Rourke grimaced.

CHAPTER 7 – THE ATTACK CHAPTER 7 THE ATTACK .

” Sylvia sat across from him. Oliver would become the leader I know him capable of being. Matt asked. It comes from the island of a people we called the Ancient Guardians. Colin.” Rourke moved slowly to sit down on the sofa. a beautifully deadly monster. Rourke moved to take another step toward her. the Guides. “Are you sure we should tell them all this. Even with all your power. he has become blinded by anger… and fear. “I’m alright. “I hoped that with the influence of his mother removed. you will not be able to heal this. We discovered not long after we took over as its caretaker why the Guides chose us.” Sylvia commanded. They entrusted us with a rare creature that we’ve protected for more than an eon. “The gargoyles have been hoarding this little weapon since before Arthur’s time. Sire?” “Yes. but swayed. However. it was my responsibility to protect us from the venom and I failed.” Rourke let out a small laugh.” Rourke straightened with effort and pulled his arm away. “Why have you come to us? Do you want us to try to heal you?” “You cannot. Master Emrys. His bodyguard caught his arm before he fell. “What is going to happen to you?” . The creature possesses venom that attacks the very essence of life—it triggers a response that accelerates aging.” Colin cleared his throat. Rourke. “Sit down.Sylvia’s hand went to her mouth. his shoulders slumping slightly.

he started tapping away on the screen. “And what. he can win the sword back and you’ll have surrendered the . Oliver has more of the venom.” “We managed to get Excalibur despite the gargoyles. there is no wizard who can heal this. He took it out with an apologetic look. I would say. do you think we’re seeking?” “Did you think you had managed to keep it a secret?” Rourke gave Colin a smug look. We know what you seek and we can help you find it. Because of the gargoyles’ regenerative powers. so don’t underestimate us. “Why you’re actually here.” Rourke gave him an impatient look.” “Have you even had a healer attempt to reverse this?” Sylvia demanded. If he gets close enough. “We’ve had years to… test the venom. little one.The strong lines of Rourke’s face crinkled as he smiled. I will be able to hold out longer against the rapid aging. But there is a way—” “So now we get to it. “My handsome face will be the first to go.” Vane said. exactly. Rourke got up with effort. Moving off to the side. no doubt. “You see. “Do not get too comfortable with the sword. I do not expect you to help we gargoyles without repayment of some kind. In this case.” I retorted. my answer lies with yours. they do not know everything.” Colin’s phone beeped loudly. Matt cleared this throat. “I have not come without a plan. However. Believe me. within a few months I will die of old age. Rourke looked pointedly away from the wizards in the room.

“You mean the Holy Grail? I saw the movie. Rourke colored at the reprimand. I wish to find them as well. You said you had information.” “The way to find it is hidden here—” Colin lifted his gaze from the phone.” “A cup that heals. you are not here to harm Ryan. or so it is said. Rourke?” “You seek the knowledge of the Guides in the hope that you can contact them about what is to come. A man on the street says he saw someone of Oliver’s description run out of the house last night. We know nothing of it. In our lore.” His lips curved into a sly smile.” Vane said slowly. There were lots of noises .” To my surprise. gargoyle. “They already know. “I don’t know if it is the same cup. Sire. He also saw several other men. Kill you and the whole balance of power changes. I am getting reports from our men tracking Oliver. or that the stories have gotten intertwined.” Rourke’s lips twisted into a smile. so stop threatening her. “Enough!” Sylvia jumped up. Matt’s hand glowed blue.” Matt met his gaze steadily.” Vane snarled. but I do know this—the cup I seek exists. “Rourke. To know why the sword has returned to us. The creature was theirs. I have no doubt it can cure me. ready for an attack. Matt asked. “What do you think you know. The legends of Arthur going after the Grail are completely wrong. “Let us say that we do seek the same commodity. the Guides safeguarded a cup that if drunk from could cure anything. “And I can help you find it. doesn’t it?” “Watch your words. They traced him to the House of Seven Gables this morning.fate of your world to him.

wizard.” “But dare we trust him with it?” Matt thought back. finding the answer to the trident concerns all of us— gargoyle.” “Trident. I squeezed Vane’s arm in warning.” said Matt.” I thought to Matt.” “Ah. “Because you have no idea what you’ve found and I do. “You found it?” “If we did. “If the gargoyle texts are correct. why should we tell you?” Vane said. Matt waved a hand in the air. If you want to find what you seek. “You’re the one dying. A nymph protected it. and regular alike. “How did you get it?” Matt said.” “You need us to work together.” Rourke replied. Do we have a choice? This is why we are here. Beyond myself. “Who is the Fisher King?” Grey asked. The trident appeared out of nowhere and dropped onto the coffee table.” Sylvia inhaled a loud. “Rourke knows. the trident is confirmation. “It wasn’t easy. . “This belongs to the Fisher King.and strange lights up in the house afterward. old man. My fingers dug into Vane’s skin. Rourke’s eyes widened with reverence. The wizards were there.” Rourke straightened. we must work together. He looked at Matt.” Vane said. “I can offer you no proof except the knowledge that we share a common goal.” “Makes sense. Rourke?” Rourke sent me a steady look. “How can we trust you. shaky breath.

” No one spoke for a minute.” “A neighboring king that you fought?” I asked Vane. The kingdom belonged to Arthur. “You didn’t go after him?” Blake asked.” Rourke said. Percival and I breached Castle Perilous. We pushed back his army and went on the offensive. Percival and I were the last ones to see his eyes open. the Fisher King took the cup with him. We’d taken the castle and the land. A wizard alone would not have been able to heal him. “Matt?” I prompted.” “He used the cup. He almost killed me.” Rourke waved his hand in excitement. “We found no cup. It was speculated that he magically healed himself. “There was no need. We left him only to find later that his body had disappeared. King Pellam. “He traveled far away from Camelot. Vane shook his head. “Galahad trailed him.The legend says that the Fisher King protected the cup of life.” Rourke frowned. “Yes. Then. “Wherever he went. “I wouldn’t know. Or so we thought. I was but a lowly knight—not privy to such things.” He met Rourke’s gaze. he rose up again. I cannot believe you wouldn’t pursue that. things happened in Camelot that required my attention and I lost . Bran of Pellam. moving out of the shadows near the fireplace. I rallied and drove a lance straight through his heart. I fought him in the throne room and wounded him grievously. but somehow. Vane looked at me first in surprise and then in speculation. “He ruled a neighboring kingdom during Arthurian times. I stayed in touch with Galahad for some time. He escaped somehow.” Vane gave Matt a dry look.” Matt admitted.

DuLac. “We need some blood. Matt took out a knife from his coat and cut a thin line down my arm. Nothing happened. “Forget it.track.” With a grimace.” Vane bent and picked up the trident. He needed guidance to retake his kingdom. In the last communication between us. Just a few drops. I know that much. “This is the answer. Blood dripped from my arm onto the center of the trident’s triangular headpiece.” He looked at Matt. but I do not know exactly where he landed. “What other secrets are you sitting on. “What unlocked Excalibur?” Vane asked.” Matt took the trident from him. I bit my lip and focused on not pulling away.” Vane’s lips curved up. that makes sense. brother?” “Where did he go?” Rourke asked. The blow turned into .” Vane blew on the trident. He crossed the channel into Gaul—France. “If this really was the Fisher King’s. We don’t need to skewer you with the thing. He didn’t seem to notice.” “I don’t understand. I am not repeating that. “Yes. “South. “My turn. Everyone in the room stilled as if stunned that he dared to touch a sacramental object.” “Galahad. I saw him cross mountains. “Relax. I held out my hand.” Vane murmured. then there can be only one key to the lock.” I said. “What?” Matt protested. Galahad said the Fisher King sought the Guides.” I stared at the three points of the trident. Vane grabbed the trident. Matt looked at me.

“Those are Chimeran letters. He peered at the symbols and spoke them out loud in gargoyle tongue. I don’t recognize them. I realized. Vane released the trident and it floated in space. I met his gaze.” I gave Grey a pointed look. but whatever his explanation. I will set up a safe house for us there. “I plan to leave right away. I smelled warm. surprised. It couldn’t be a coincidence. “Yes. An aura of green surrounded the trident.” Sylvia stepped forward. The city of Akrotiri was destroyed. Vane translated.” “Yes. I didn’t want to bring it up in front of the gargoyles. His vision sat between us. “Lost City of Thera.” A shiver went down my spine. Grey turned to Vane. He ran a hand down the trident’s spear. salty air. For a moment.” Matt said. I had heard that. “We learned about it in history. “The eruption of Thera was one of the biggest events in the ancient world. Only a few of you should come. Rourke stood up. I am sure you will want to book your own passage.” I cleared my throat.” “Thera.” “You speak Chimeran?” Rourke asked. “Symbols. “The underwater volcano. Matt handed me the knife… Excalibur.wind. the trident dropped.” Rourke’s gaze sharpened. Matt called the trident and it floated into his hand.” “Gargoyle tongue?” Vane asked. Vane had us studying Thera and now the trident was leading us straight to it. “I am skilled at speech.” Rourke walked to the edge of the room with an unsteady gait. Too many will . Then. “It is enough to convince me. Vane shrugged.

of course. It will take you months to try to find a way around us. the message was clear. He nodded. you will never set foot on those islands. It is not a big place and I would rather not attract any attention. “What is your choice. Thera is now called Santorini. but Greece is gargoyle territory. although we do not know its purpose. “Besides allowing me to save my life?” Rourke laughed. “We work together. Merlin?” Matt hesitated. Without us. We will guard you. welcome anytime. you are.” “Let me be clear.” *** . “You know we can help you. My son can be very singleminded. Excalibur pulsed. but to me. if you ever do.arouse suspicion.” Vane raised a brow. Oliver does not suspect I have turned to you. In my hand. The archeological site for Akrotiri is there. then at the fresh wound on my arm. Rourke glanced at Matt. who sat silently on the sofa. It makes him dangerous. I almost yelped and dropped it. You found the trident. I mean to stow along. “Say yes.” He didn’t look at me. “We can protect ourselves. “You were meant to find it. “It is the only lead you have. No one else noticed. You know it is time you cannot afford to waste. I thought to Matt. Oliver will know you have found the trident.” He lifted a regal brow at Matt.” Rourke straightened to the full height of his frame.” His gaze found Sylvia. It began as soon as Excalibur appeared.” “Why should we include you?” I asked. “Sylvia. “You have the trident.” He glanced at me.” “What makes you think we intend to go at all?” Vane said. A war is upon us. He will not be far behind. but his eyes flickered.

I think. She is long gone.“Wizards working with those beasts.” “Rubbish.” I said slowly. but keep to themselves. one of the Candidates and Gia’s ex-boyfriend. I’d seen him be cruel. was one of the most obnoxious and thug-like persons I’d ever met. You’re not going to find her. “What have we come to?” “Have you been hanging out with Mark?” I asked. I don’t believe that. His cotton blue button-down shirt clung to lean muscles as he ran his hands through his hair. We should know. “Long ago. A sentiment instilled by Vane—not that Vane was paying attention to Blake. We were the last ones in it. It’s easy to confuse the two. Vane rounded on Matt.” Matt said. Gods. “We couldn’t find her in Arthur’s time. Any mention of the cave he and Vane had been imprisoned in for fifteen hundred years made him understandably moody.” Vane retorted. There are many creatures who roam this earth. “As Rourke said. “The Lady of the Lake is a Guide?” “Guides. He spat out.” Blake said as soon they left. She abandoned us. “What do you think you’re going to find at Thera?” Matt blinked. but I’d never seen him so angry. I knew he could be completely selfish. I did not send Galahad on a quest to find the . “No. “ You’re looking for the Lady.” Matt’s face darkened.” Matt sat down on the sofa. Mark. She and her kind have been around since life began on this world. knowledge of the Guides. He reverently believed that wizards were superior to everyone else.” I’d seen Vane act cold. What makes you think she’s still around? The cave was empty. “The Lake water still exists.

we have to look. Since then. It was there at the trial. He made a picture of tall. “What did you find out?” Vane inquired impatiently.” “You’re pinning our futures on a dream. There’s an eye on the other side and a… crescent moon? What do they mean?” . “The trident. Grey and I all nodded.” Matt said. Matt pulled back on the floating picture with his hand. “Do you remember when you were in the trial?” Blake. A small carving stood out in the stone.” Matt held up the trident. I have reviewed her memories—” “You let him review your memories?” Gia asked. “I doubt Ryan even noticed this while she was going through it. aghast.” Vane muttered. This certainly is. Gia.” “That looks like typical Roman construction.” Matt snapped. “There’s more. Even if I’d been able to block Matt at all.” Vane squinted at the image. As if the mark the trial had left on the Candidates could ever be erased or forgotten. It zoomed in on the arches. It’s not as if I could help it. Whether or not the cup is real.” He turned to us. “It’s the only lead we have. but to follow the Fisher King to the Lady. “Can’t you see it’s made of the same magic as Excalibur? They are both her instruments. “You told me there were pillars all around the place you were in.” said Vane.” “You’re not looking closely enough. “Nothing out of the ordinary. Matt lifted a hand and started drawing in the air. I made a face.Grail. “Even if we don’t find her. the trial was too intense for me to hide while our minds were connected. A stream of blue light came out of his finger like liquid paint. black pillars and curved arches.

” Vane rubbed his chest. “However. but nothing else happened. I. Soon I was twirling the trident like a familiar lance.” Under my hand. “It’s a nice enough lance. When I first started training with Vane. “What I don’t understand is how you knew. Grey faced Vane. but I am certain we shall find out. “What do you feel when you touch this?” Vane took it without expression. Vane stopped.” Matt said. more practiced. I wonder if it’s my mind making connections…” Matt picked up the trident and handed it to Vane. I thought it related to the witch trials. . The trial was not something I cared to relive. I saw Vane move one so fast I could barely see its outline. he pushed back the coffee table to create space in the middle of the room. I walked up to Vane and took the trident from him. but I don’t sense anything special. he drilled all of the Candidates with lance-fighting forms before allowing us to advance to swords. With a wave of his hand. however. I have been having some strange dreams—about water. Vane let me have it without comment. I was only too happy. Excalibur pulsed again. Then. A trace of sea air tickled my nose. the movements became smoother. He twirled an awkward figure-eight in the air. You made us study Thera just this week. I took a breath. He continued for a few minutes. He waved a hand and the images disappeared. I keep dreaming I am being drowned.” “I didn’t. was never particularly good at the lance. The faint scent of salty sea air—the same scent I smelled in the attic of the Seven Gables—grew more potent in the living room.“I’m not sure.

Yet now, I realized, I was moving the trident with tremendous speed. Instinct made me halt suddenly. Its tip pointed at the center of the fireplace… and Blake. A shot of fire burst from the trident.Blake jumped out of the way with a yelp and fell to the floor with force. The shot of fire blasted through an iron grate and the stack of wood inside the hearth exploded into flames. “Ryan!” Gia ran to help Blake get back up. Matt took the trident from me. “I think we’ve seen enough.” I blinked and shook the cobwebs from my eyes. “I don’t know what happened. It overtook me.” “You are the sword-bearer.” Matt said. “Vane defeated the Fisher King. He broke the trident’s allegiance and left it open for anyone to master it.” He gave me a meaningful look. “A sword’s allegiance only extends as far as its master’s ability to command it.” As could Excalibur’s allegiance change and be taken from me, he meant. I was getting tired of hearing the same thing. I had not gotten weak, dammit! And if I had, it was my right. It was still my life wasn’t it? “Not anymore,” Matt thought to me. My irritation must have shown on my face, because Blake interjected hastily, “Can I try the trident?” “There’s no need for you—” Matt started. “There is every need,” Vane interjected. “He is a Candidate. Let’s see if it works for him.” Blake twirled the trident in the same manner as Vane and I had done. Within minutes, the trident whirled faster than I could see. Blake stopped. A shot fired from the trident, and the flames in the hearth exploded. Grey jumped up from the sofa. “I’m next.”

“Me too,” Gia chimed in. “Please.” Sylvia stood up from where she’d been sitting beside Grey. “Don’t burn my house down.” Her eyes traveled over to the broken window. “Once was enough.” Vane muttered a word and the shards of the window stirred. They came back together in a symphony of movement. Vane blew on it and the glass melded together. It created a beautiful spiderweb-like pattern. “Oh, it’s gorgeous,” Sylvia said happily. Thank you. I mouthed to Vane. He raised a brow. Vane-speak for, “I will collect later.” He folded his arms over his chest. “The trident has spoken. I suggest you contact the Council, Clarence. Merlin isn’t going to be traveling alone to Thera.” Sylvia said quickly, “I think I should come too.” “Because of Rourke?” I asked. Grey scowled at the mention of the gargoyle. “Since when are you friends with them?” Sylvia’s finely arched brows raised. “Ragnar Bank deals in magic. They’re one of our biggest customers.” “They killed Alexa!” Grey shouted. Sylvia’s shoulders drooped. “Grey, she didn’t know,” I stepped in. “And it wasn’t Rourke. It was Oliver.” “What’s the difference? One gargoyle is the same as another.” I mostly agreed with him, but the generalization bothered me. Sylvia sighed. “The blame lays on Marla. To think I hired her because she could speak Chimeran.”

“So can you,” Matt added. Sylvia nodded. “I am not saying you should trust him, but I can confirm what he says is true.” She looked at Grey. “It’s time for me to stop taking a back seat in this.” “No,” Grey shook his head. Sylvia’s lips curved up into a smile. “You can risk your life for us, but I can’t? I am a witch, son. I am not helpless.” Her brow crinkled. “Although I haven’t been away from the bank in a long time. I’ll have to make arrangements for someone to take over—” “You haven’t ever been away,” Grey corrected. “Put one of the twenty vice presidents you have to work. They’re hungry for it.” Sylvia looked at him in surprise. “How do you know?” He shrugged. “I’ve been at the bank this whole semester. You passed me all the memos. Did you think I couldn’t read?” “I-I…” Sylvia stammered. Her eyes sought mine. I suppressed a smile. Miracles could happen. “We shall see.” Matt thought to me. I glanced at him. His eyes were fixed on Vane. Not realizing we watched, Vane held the trident. It wasn’t the fact that he held it that was worrisome. It was the way he held it—longingly—not the way someone who saw it as “nothing special” would do. *** A limo drove us all to Boston Logan later that day. We would make a stop in London to drop off most of the guardian wizards. Ten of us, along with Sylvia, would continue to Athens. The other guardians were to return to Avalon Prep and the Council, a train ride’s distance over the English countryside. Instead of going to the terminals, we turned off to a private strip used by chartered flights. Soon we were all sitting inside the

plush interior of a private plane. My seat could have been a small bed. I leaned it all the way back, elevating my feet and closed my eyes. Behind me, one of the two stewardesses cooed over Matt and asked him if he wanted a drink. He asked for a pint of ale in a decidedly grumpy tone. I tried not to smile as I saw him grab the sick bag as soon as he sat down. He hated flying. Vane slipped into the seat beside me. I opened one eye. I sat in the very front. All the rows held four seats, two on each side of the plane. All rows except the first one. A bulkhead took up the space across from us. Matt sat behind us with Clarence. Blake and Gia sat across the aisle from Matt. Grey, Sylvia, and the other guardians took up the back. “Seven hours,” Vane said. “Think you can stand me for that long?” “I don’t know. Will you be videotaping me or taking any pictures?” “Only if you take your clothes off,” he replied. I couldn’t help it—my cheeks turned red hot. Behind us, Matt made a choking sound. Through the crack between the seats, I saw him tear open a complimentary set of earbuds—despite the fact that he hated them—and jam it into a cellphone. He leaned back in his seat, still clutching the sick bag, and squeezed his eyes shut. Vane saw him too. He leaned back in his seat with a smug look, having successfully needled his brother. I elbowed him. “Funny.” He caught my arm and brought me closer to him. He whispered into my ear, “Not if you don’t want it to be.” A mischievous light filled his dark eyes, and for once, he

looked to be the twenty-one years he claimed to be. It would be so easy to give in, I realized. His words drew me in as much as he did, and therein lay the danger because I was starting to sense that I couldn’t trust those words. He bit my earlobe playfully and a shiver went through me. The plane jerked and buckled as it took off down the runway. Vane’s teeth closed more forcefully and a rush of adrenaline rippled through me. I pulled away. “You smelled the ocean before we went up the staircase in the Seven Gables.” The mischievous light turned wary. “Yes.” “When I touched the trident I smelled it again.” “Yes.” “But you didn’t.” Vane blinked. Then, his expression changed. “You don’t believe me.” My muscles tensed. “Did you smell the sea?” “It would be nice if my girlfriend believed in me.” The part of me that wanted so badly to be wrong wept. “Stop evading, Vane. You have an affinity to the trident. Why are you hiding it?” Vane ran a hand through his hair. “Because I don’t know what it means.” He stared off at a distance. “I remember the Fisher King. There was something wrong with the fight. I couldn’t put my finger on it then, but now I get the feeling he was testing me.” “Testing you for what?” Vane snorted. “How should I know? That’s Merlin’s area.” “Have you even told him?” The plane straightened and soared high up in the clouds. The

seatbelt sign turned off. In a blink, Vane had my belt unfastened. He pulled me into his lap. “I will if I have to, but not yet. It may be nothing and it will only make him more suspicious of me than he already is.” I searched his face. “He’s not the enemy.” He squeezed my waist. “He thinks I am.” I started to contradict him, but found myself unable to talk with his tongue in my mouth. My arms tightened around him as I let myself get lost. Right along with the plane, I floated in air for a brief moment in time. When he released me, it took me a second to center myself again. Vane gave me a smug smile. “After all, I did steal the girl.” I knew he was trying to distract me. It was working. I rolled my eyes. “Only by going on bended knee.” “Was that how it happened? Funny, I am certain I would remember you on your knees in front of me.” Heat scorched my cheeks. Vane laughed. “You are too easy, sweet Dorothy.” With a scowl, I elbowed him. “Stop being nasty, Vane.” “Sir Vane,” he corrected. Lunge. Parry. Feint. Watch Ryan fall on her own sword. I made a face. No matter how well trained I was, I couldn’t seem to win a fencing match against Vane. His hands slid up and down my back. As my spine arched into his touch, I wondered—what was wrong with me that losing made me want him all that much more? *** A burning heat against my neck jolted me awake. The lights of the plane had been dimmed. I raised the window shade. Outside, dark nothingness stretched across the sky. Down below, an endless

expanse of black water contemplated itself. Yawning, I stretched and stood up. Behind me, everyone else seemed to be asleep. The two stewardesses in the back also slumped in their seats. Vane slept heavily. I heard a rattle from the front of the plane. With a frown, I left my seat and walked toward it. A small galley separated us from the cockpit. As soon as I entered the galley, an overwhelming urge to run fired through my nerves and I wished I had Excalibur. I took another step, then jerked back when a shadowy figure jumped out from the corner of the galley. He wore a pilot’s uniform. I started to relax. Then, his broad forehead caught the light. Ugly fangs gleamed. Gargoyle. He had a half-tied parachute on his back and a long knife in his hand. He leapt at me. I stumbled and fell back into the aisle. The knife scraped my arm. I kicked him hard in the groin. The gargoyle grunted in pain, but I knew he’d heal quickly. I touched my amulet. Above me, no one stirred. I heard Blake snoring and realized now that my amulet was what had woken me. It was strong enough to ward off a sleep spell. “Matt!” I yelled. “Wake up!” The gargoyle raised his knife. Vane’s training kicked in. I wound my feet through his and tripped him. The hulking beast fell forward, threatening to crush me. Turning my back into him, I grabbed the gargoyle’s knife hand. I noticed it was branded with a V inside a circle. I twisted his wrist until he released it. The knife fell to the floor, but the gargoyle put one beefy hand around my neck— even while I held onto his other—and tried to choke me. I started to black out. “Matt!” I screamed aloud again in my head.

” Matt stumbled down to cockpit.” I shouted. “I threw too much power at him. I twisted around so I was on my back. He looked completely drained. Then.” He looked down at the charred ash on the floor. If he didn’t control it.” “Oliver. “The gargoyle was one of the pilots. Matt’s power would tear us all apart. I crept up to the spot the gargoyle had been. “I’ll check on the other. Matt sat down beside me.” Everyone of my dead ex-boyfriend’s clan seemed to have joined up with Oliver. It should never be easy. We’re not going to crash into the ocean. “Enough!” The blue light lingered and. Finally. it blinked out leaving only the scattered ash of the gargoyle as evidence of its ferocious power. He exploded. “He tried to kill us. “The pilot’s awake now. I was groggy from the sleeping spell. A circle with a V. I didn’t touch it. the easier it becomes. for a moment.” He sounded sorry. My fingernails dug into the aisle carpet. I thought we were done for. “Matt.A bright blue light shone from where Matt sat. Nothing but black char remained of him. The plane shuddered again. My face hit the floor.” “The more lives you take.” “That’s good. The blue light kept expanding. Blue light hit the gargoyle with terrible anger.” “He had a brand. I wasn’t. filling the whole plane.” I told him. Matt returned. The plane teetered and started free falling. I don’t know how long I sat there. He stood and I saw the blinding power of Merlin in his eyes. Matt lurched into the aisle. Wind filled the plane. It yanked me forward. He .

after all. a beast could be hiding. “No. I know my limits.” Matt frowned. The sword attracted enemies like moths. “What I want to know is how they knew about the flight? Sylvia arranged the flight just hours ago. “Do you realize this is the first time I have had a moment alone with you in months?” His thumb traced the edge of my collarbone in a lazy circle. Ryan. It stung.” Blue light seeped from his fingers and cooled the battered line of my throat. They are memories.” I said. “You’ve used yourself up already. I don’t want you to get hurt. It took only a few seconds to heal me. Matt leaned over to put his hands on my neck. “We should wake everyone up.slumped back against a seat.” I protested. I need to recover a bit. but Matt’s hands lingered.” He sighed. “Matt. “They are not dreams. I touched my throat gingerly. One I haven’t figured out yet. “In a minute. “You’re right. I stiffened. “He’s not you. Besides healing you is easy.” I blinked.” “I know you’ve been having dreams of him. “You see them?” I nodded.” Matt smiled.” “This tame act he plays around you is just that—an act. He’s not necessarily up to something. Matt’s lips curved up into a small smile. Under any of those smooth faces. Matt explained. Vane and I—” “He is playing a game. for months. You don’t know him like I do. Morgan had fooled me. They are trying to tell .” “Another gargoyle?” I looked up at the sleeping passengers. “Don’t worry.” I had a feeling that wasn’t the sole reason.

It’s what allows our connection to be so strong. “The kingdom was at stake. “It was rumored she was having an affair with Lancelot. it’s not him I want to talk about. “You used it to spy on her. When did everyone start thinking it was okay to walk all over me? Matt answered.” “Why did you really give this to Guinevere?” I asked. Then. “There are boundaries. I’m not sure what though. we would have died today.” “You sound like Vane. realization burst in through an open crack. “You used her.” I moved to stand up.” Matt’s cheeks reddened. It should never be easy.” “The more you take. Still.” Our connection told me he was telling the truth.” Matt’s eyes darkened. “Promise me you won’t take off the amulet. Without you. but I fashioned the amulet with the Lady’s magic as well as mine. the easier it is to keep taking.” “Right. “I want you to promise me—no matter how much you’re tempted—to always keep it on.” “I was not in love with her. Vane doesn’t know this. There’s a difference. Matt caught my wrist. “I did what I had to do.” I leveled a look at him.” . She had one with Vane. You were worried she would be Arthur’s downfall.” His fingers traced the chain of my amulet.” “He does what he does for himself.” His jaw tightened. “I’m trying to protect you. There is Lake water inside the ruby. “Vane thought it was because you were in love with her.” “I’ll keep it in mind.” I repeated what he’d said so often to me.me something. Matt.” I said evenly.

Merlin.” “Not the way I planned. “That worked out well. but eventually. “Let’s say we do find the Lady and you get all the answers you want. this will get too big to explain away.” he said simply.“I get that. My first concern. “I did that to protect you too. though. “You still think of me as Matt. Taking my hand.” I sighed. but it did work in a way.” I said in a question. I was relieved. The Queen may have stalled everyone by reducing me to some madman who broke into her pressroom. but from my visions. “What?” “When you woke me up.” I looked at him. Matt declared himself to be Merlin and claimed Excalibur.” he said. sooner or later we will not be able to hide what is happening from the world. You called for Matt.” Matt’s eyes changed back to normal. He said. what then? What are you planning to do?” Matt stared at my amulet. “You called me Matt. I sat back on my haunches. is stopping these tsunamis.” I remembered him standing in front of a roomful of reporters. “It depends on the answers. . His pupils deepened back into themselves until they became lost points in twin black holes. His hand tightened on mine before he released it.” “Yes?” “I like it. Merlin made me uneasy.” “Yes. The conspiracy groups all believed me and declaring me a fraud allowed the rest of the world to take a much-needed breath. he pulled me up with him.

.

CHAPTER 8 .ATHENS CHAPTER 8 ATHENS .

“You have short legs so you might be fine in the back. I slapped his shoulder with a boarding pass. but the seats were all scattered throughout the plane since we got our seats at the last minute. After the gargoyle incident. and big—” I slapped him with the pass again. passengers who thought they had first class tickets harassed a ticket agent after realizing they’d suddenly been downgraded. I stood in line at the gate with my boarding pass. I prefer long hair. One look at his ticket and Vane pulled some voodoo at the ticket counter.” We entered the plane and slipped into our seats. eight of us had first class seats. Sylvia booked our tickets. but I need room. I ran down the jetway to catch up with Vane. Now. Hard.I was in so much trouble. the pilot of our chartered flight wanted nothing to do with us. You could always switch with someone if I’m too much of burden to sit beside. I was the pawn caught on the chessboard between the two of them. Apparently Matt hadn’t looked at himself lately. “—eyes. “I’ve had this seat for months!” a florid man in a business suit cried. and we found ourselves at Heathrow on a British Airways flight. nice curves. Vane took . “What was that for?” “You stole these seats!” He peered down at me. I smiled sheepishly at the stewardess who scanned my boarding pass with a stoic expression. He scowled. Next to us. Vane was the one playing games? Ha.

” Grey nodded. The flight went by quickly. probably for a sick bag. but the answer didn’t satisfy me. I sensed an undercurrent of something else. correctly reading me. so we were spending the night in Athens. “He was bound to be different after what happened on the rooftop. and Sylvia. I rode with Vane.the aisle. I grumbled.” Vane grabbed Grey’s arm as he passed. Vane sighed. Because Grey could smell gargoyles. I planned on getting up early to sneak over to the Parthenon before our morning flight. I stared after Grey as he walked off. I nodded.” Vane said. I realized. go through the plane. He sat behind us with Clarence. We may have been on a mission. “Vane’s guess is as good as mine. The plane touched down in Athens as the sun painted the sky with a bright red sunset. I don’t want any more surprises. seemed tiny.” Vane said. but being in Athens was a wet dream for any history buff. For an international airport.” Matt’s reply came shortly. Several small cars with tinted windows waited for us outside. Eleftherios A. “After everyone sits. Vane and Sylvia chatted with . There were only two flights to Thera and we’d already missed them. “Matt?” I asked. He put his coat on the seat beside Sylvia. Grey. I colored. but Matt shut me off before I could poke any further. I heard him rustling around behind me. “At least it’s only a three-hour flight. We grabbed our bags. “What do you know about Grey?” “I doubt Merlin knows any more. and decided to leave him alone.

we stopped in the private courtyard of a giant hotel with contemporary architecture that stood out among the surrounding neoclassical buildings.” Without waiting for a reply. Sea air blew through the city. “Even she’s going to . “That will be dinner. They must be everywhere. In the dark. The section where we were staying had the city layered up to a hill.” In the heart of the city.” Sylvia said. Athena. I said as much to Grey. I gave Gia a pointed look. lending an atmosphere of relaxation. “It is beautiful. The spa. “I’m sorry we won’t get a chance to see it. Sylvia took one bed. She’d been my roommate at Avalon Prep. Gia and I shared the other.our driver in perfect Greek. I sank down on a thick coverlet of one of the king beds and stared out the gorgeous rectangular window from our room. I’m going to eat at the spa though. yellow light shone across the temple dedicated to the goddess.” A doorbell rang in the living room of the suite. Porters rushed to take our bags up to a set of adjoining suites that Sylvia reserved for us. the lights of square buildings twinkled from varying heights. “Like old times. I’ll be back later.” Gia commented. who grumpily replied. “All I can smell is gargoyles. We drove along roads crowded wall to wall with buildings. one of the oldest buildings in the world. I’ll let them in and tell the boys. she hurried out. artificial. The window framed the Parthenon sitting atop the hill of the Acropolis. I promise you I’ll bring you back as soon as we get the next opportunity. while the buzzing of people on every corner layered an undercurrent of carousing revelry. In the darkening sky. the Acropolis. I found myself sharing a room with Gia and Sylvia.

but you know he’s losing his grip on them. The strong scents of richly flavored dishes wafted in from the living room. I turned to look at him from the lush bed. Matt’s instructions had been. Straight to the . Ryan.” “I’m with you.” he said. I could imagine how it looked in ancient times when the giant statue of Athena.” I moved to follow her. “Did you know that the word ‘Parthenon’ means ‘the virgin’s apartments’?” Vane asked from the doorway. “C’mon.” Gia said. “What do you want.” Gia whooped.” I frowned. “You had me at break. like little ants. A few people. walked around the giant columns and crumbled remains of the rest of the temple. Vane?” “What I want will have to wait. Since when did flying mean fasting?” There had been no time to eat at Heathrow and no real food on the plane. bearing a lance and shield.” “Don’t worry. Vane stopped me at the door by using his body as a wall. We need to eat so we can do some shopping. DuLac. “For now.” I turned back to the Parthenon. We may have Rourke’s protection. “Shopping? This is gargoyle territory. I’ll settle for telling you that dinner is served. “You sound like Matt. “Stay in the hotel.take a break.” “That wasn’t nice. stood sentry over her people.” I said. Gia pushed past Vane to get to it. Gia groaned. A low burning heat in his eyes left my throat suddenly parched. “I’m so starved. We’re going down to the hotel shops.

I’d picked out a gold sweater with a black tank and black skirt with leggings.” Conveniently. curly chest hair. He wore a gray sport jacket with a light green shirt.” “That’s what I’m afraid of. the four of us hurried down the hallway. I added.airport tomorrow. Blake groaned when we crowded the bathroom to put on makeup. I did the same. He grinned. She pulled off her pajamas to reveal a black. glittering sweater and tight. I had a plan. you could get anything from the concierge when you flashed a black AMEX card. Blake magicked the two dolls into two disturbingly realistic clones of Gia and me.” Gia jumped out from the other side of the bed we shared.” As if. We both wore soft. “Hello. “I wanted to get a gold chain. In matching steel gray pants and loafers. he stood with the studied casualness of a local.” Gia hissed. so hurry up. A few minutes later. gold ballet shoes with short heels. I stepped around Vane and hurried off before he could see my smile. “Hurry or we’re going to get caught. open at the neck revealing dark. Grey-astus. *** “Are they asleep?” I yawned later when Blake shook me awake. “They’re all passed out. but thought it .” “Just put the dummies in place. my stomach grumbled. It wasn’t until we were in the elevator that I noticed Grey’s clothes. “I only have enough power to make the spell last fifteen minutes. black pants. Grey held up two inflatable dolls—apparently. “We’re not going to do anything you wouldn’t do.” I whistled. Grey stood behind him.” Blake shushed him.

and people relaxing and enjoying life. Grey said to me. dark blonde locks turned bright pink.” The elevator doors opened. who held up his hands. “I could pull it off. “you’ve been holding out on me. we climbed into a cab. “Blake. either because . The taxi dropped us off in front of a fairly nondescript building with a long line of people huddled together.” Blake blushed. The taxi driver shook his head at me when I took out a piece of paper and painstakingly read the address. The air remained peaceful until we drove directly into the sights and sounds of the nightlife of Athens. “I want green.” he retorted. thanks. so I held up the paper and pointed. what now?” “Trust me. brain. A huge fountain sat in the middle of a valley surrounded by tall buildings of old and new architecture. It took about five minutes to reach our destination. Just outside the hotel doors. “Blake. We passed by a park of trees that led up to the Acropolis and Syntagma Square.” Gia said with admiration. do your stuff. Café tables lined the streets. There were wooden balconies. not Greek?” Gia said. Blake said a small spell that he directed at my hair.” I replied. Blake glanced at Grey. A cold wind blew through the grand walkway of the landmark.” Gia’s hair poofed into fluorescent green. In the mirrored back of the elevator. “Alright. more fountains.might be too much. He nodded and we sped down the roadway. “No.” “Isn’t that Italian.” I said quickly before a fight broke out.

. getting our hands stamped. I thought he blended in pretty well with the crowd.” he explained. playing blissfully deafening club music. “Let’s get to the dance floor.” I said. “Would you rather be standing outside?” We all blinked at the bite in his tone. “I could try a spell.” Grey took out a cellphone. Blake replied. A short conversation with the bouncers later. He marched us along to the front of the line. “How are we going to get in?” Gia whispered.” I pushed Grey to the stairs that led underground. “Grouchy much?” Gia mumbled behind us. eyeing the crowd in dismay. Several large bouncers stared down would-be entrants. and formal wear. “I texted the owners. “Is it a bank or a Mafia front?” Gia muttered. I gaped at him. kids. but I couldn’t hear him. “How are you allowed to have a phone and I’m not?” “I’m not the chosen one. They do business with the bank. we emerged onto a dance floor. we stood inside the entrance. Blake pulled on the small bowtie he wore. One floor down.of the narrow road or the cold. He barked. square glasses. “Welcome to the Dragon Club. except for the completely uncomfortable expression he wore. With messy black hair. The line rounded the block with people dressed anywhere from black tie to trendy to hipster-chic. Another group behind us waited impatiently.” he said flippantly and tapped on the phone’s touch screen. Grey’s expression darkened with sudden ferocity.” “Not necessary.

And. On the wall opposite the bar. The push and pull of the beat mirrored the evocative movements of the crowd. “I’m getting a drink. I cut myself loose from creeping- . a DJ stood high above the gyrating crowd. Right. “I’ll go with you. She turned her head and her gaze collided with his. She winked at him.A long bar took up one side of the club. a tall.” Blake declared. it happened. In the middle of moving some random boy’s creeping hands back into an acceptable position. red-haired octopus of a girl glued to his front. the thumping of riotous music would not be swayed. a row of booths were also packed with people. “C’mon. Without another word to us. The barstools were all crammed. I was in the middle of the crowd with only music running through my veins. The music changed and so did the partners. It looked like nirvana.” Blake said quickly. I blinked at him. Gia. He stared at a red-haired girl wearing a top that left her back completely bare. However. A guy approached me. I spotted him. then. but nothing beat the adrenaline of moving to the waves of rhythm being pumped through the air. Gia let out a small sound of pique. Just in front of it.” Gia declared with an uneasy glance at Grey. Next to me. Grey didn’t reply. and the next thing I knew. Vane. It only took me a few minutes of scanning the crowd to find a way in. I watched her go with a heavy heart. he walked away. No drinking age. His body moved sensuously to the music. Time fell away as we danced under the caress of the dark.

.hands to push people aside. I cleared the path to my so-called boyfriend.

A DARK DANCE CHAPTER 9 A DARK DANCE .CHAPTER 9 .

He pulled me hard against him before I could blink. barely visible past the bar. he pulled me out of the crowd. “Got your attention?” he shouted into my ear.It took me two moves to shove the girl off Vane. Roving strobe lights emphasized the harsh lines of his face. past the thumping music. a bouncer guarded a doorway. I turned to Vane. I had snuck out without him. Blake glanced up and saw me. My body wanted to stay attached to the oblivion of the dance.” “Probably. One look at my face and she slinked away without argument. “You would have stopped us. . Pretty soon. giving it a dangerous slant.” He started to pull me back into the dance crowd. I said with a pout. “What?” I protested. “What are you doing?” His lips grazed my neck. Without waiting for the song to end. The wind blew out of my sails. I spotted Blake and Gia dancing at the edge of the crowd. He looked down at me and whatever he saw caused him to take a bracing breath. My front plastered to his. we swam in the dark waves of the night. I looked up at Vane. Vane took me past the crowded floor.” I had to bite back a gasp when he caught my hips and started moving us to the music. I couldn’t form a coherent thought. The pulsating rhythm tightened around every nerve I possessed until my body was a mass of taut strings for his body to strum. He had me and he knew it. I shook my head at him. In a corner. “Taking advantage. He pointed questioningly to Vane.

My knees were on the seat and I put my hands around the strong .Vane said a few words to him that I couldn’t hear past the beating music. his voice distorted by magic. My fingers trembled a little as I took his hand. he walked off. His lips took mine. He barked. “Move.” I was pretty sure he wasn’t talking about hair. A deep seat extended behind a half-moon table that served as a barrier between the room and us.” he said without apology. Sliding onto the seat.” The boy nodded and got out of the booth. The bouncer paled at whatever Vane said and rushed to open the rope. All the empty ones had a light directly above them. “Hey!” The girl stared after the boy. Vane led us to a corner booth hidden in the shadows. “Persuasion. Vane’s hands slid through my pink hair. He yanked me into the booth. He thumped his hand on the table to get the attention of two lip-locked strangers with only half their clothes on.” I said. I barely felt my sweater being removed. Refastening his shirt. “What was that?” I asked Vane. She soon scrambled out of her seat. Did I really know what he was asking? The draw of the night mixed with the heavy bass of the music made it hard to care. “Nice color. as well.” he remarked. Vane’s eyes locked on her. “You can’t even see it. I eyed the booth. Vane led me past him into a darkened room lined with low booths. which had been expertly designed for maximum privacy. and lost in the kiss. he held out his hand. “I can see enough.

muscles of Vane’s neck. Vane frowned. The tank slid up. His finger traced the chain until he came to the amulet.” Vane cursed. To keep his hooks in you. Matt’s body seemed to superimpose over Vane’s and I felt him touching me as well. For a second. I don’t know how to shut him out.” Matt’s voice sounded in my head. sending little shocks of pleasure down my spine.” Matt groaned.” I backed away. I closed my eyes. “Ryan. The tiger behind the eyes stirred. Vane’s lips grazed my neck. “Ryan. “He… sees us. From you. He wants you for himself. “I think it’s time you took off the amulet. “What?” “Matt. With a wet needy moan.” I said. “Can’t? Or don’t want to?” I didn’t. A hand skimmed up the back of my knee. He squeezed the gemstone in his palm. but you’ll be free of him. “It’s not like that.” “He’s blocked me from the amulet. so neither can I?” I frowned. I’d been drawn to the amulet ever since the .” Vane tugged me back to him. My mind awoke. His presence washed over me. I yanked my tank back down.” “I c-can’t. pulling it out as far as it would go from my neck. don’t you? I’ll make you another one. It had a desperate edge to it. His hands went under my tank and up my back. my thigh. It may not be as powerful. and slowly slid up under my skirt. He said roughly. I tore my lips from Vane’s. Want. I gasped when a palm clasped over an exposed breast and squeezed. “He can’t have you. My eyes snapped open.

first time I’d seen it. “I wish I could say the same. I leaned away from him and repeated.” The words tumbled out before I could stop them. He pulled the strands with enough force to make me wince. I can be.” “You’re not my keeper. If I did.” His fingers tangled in my hair.” He ground his teeth.” A glimmer of the predator colored his eyes. The minute I think it is not doing just that. “If required. “Why?” “It saved our lives back on the plane. It saved mine twice more. I’ll simply take it off. because Vane’s expression hardened. I waved back with a sense of relief. I pleaded. Vane would have walked all over me. “I can’t.” He picked up my sweater from the table and held it out to me. My spine stiffened. I won’t ask. I knew that Matt was right. Something inside me needed it.” Trust Vane not to water down anything. Behind me. but I was right and I didn’t want to back down. My answer must have shone on my face. .” *** Gia waved at me frantically as soon as I came out of the back room. It is your choice. Not happy was an understatement. “That thing is supposed to protect you. Vane followed in eerie silence.” “There are other ways. Our fight left me jittery. “I guess I know where you stand. “Vane. It’s why I hadn’t taken it off the first time I found out about Matt’s spying.

However. I spotted the red-haired girl he’d gone off with watching at the front of the crowd. I wondered how many of them were also gargoyles. Vane grabbed my elbow to stop. Maybe he’ll listen to you. Grey pounced on him. She pulled me toward a second set of stairs a little past where we stood that led down to the next floor. Fangs sprouted. One was Grey. She said something to the giant of man who pummeled my brother. The music still blared but instead of a dance crowd. retreating to the back of the room. I made a sound of frustration and started down toward Grey myself. “Help him.” Luckily. “We have to get downstairs.” I let her lead me.” “He’s been asking for a fight.” Vane said. Vane stood beside me.Gia practically ran to me. a circle of people surrounded two boys who were trying their best to kill each other. May as well let him work it out. most remained in place and encouraged the gargoyle by yelling their support. Bones crunched when his hand connected with the giant’s jaw. Gargoyle. Halfway down the stairs. The giant’s face changed as he lost control. “Do you see where we are?” He pointed at the crowd. His forehead protruded. A few people stared at the gargoyle in shock. she didn’t seem to require an actual answer to the question. “Where have you been? I’ve been looking everywhere. Grey gave his opponent a hard kick to the stomach and sent the giant stumbling back. . I gave him a little push. I understood her panic.

” Vane said. Muttering a spell. He’ll be fine. I concentrated on using the . and threw some kind of spell with a green-aura on them. Blake came out of nowhere and ran at the newcomer with a loud yell. I couldn’t see anything past the forest of people who cheered and booed alternately. he froze me in place. He dove into the crowd. The giant got him in a headlock and started to choke him. Still. “Keep her safe. “I could use a good fight.Bouncers gathered the ones who obviously had never seen a gargoyle before. Closing my eyes. I tried to speak. He slapped her hand on mine. He stopped Gia too. Grey slipped out of the hold and punched the giant in the face. aghast. Gia and I ran downstairs.” Gia cried. “You see. The giant stumbled back. “Forgetting spell. “This is getting out of hand. I tore away from Vane. I made it to the edge before Vane caught me from behind by the waist.” Vane said in my ear. He looked ready to join the fight. the regulars. Grey doubled over.” The reckless edge in his eyes left me uneasy.” Below us. “You bastard! I’m stuck too!” Ignoring her. about a hundred or so people watched the fight. Vane touched my face.” Another gargoyle stepped inside the crowd’s circle. “We need to get him out of here. but no sound came out. “They’re all gargoyles?” I said. the giant punched Grey in the stomach. She tugged her hand and found she couldn’t move it. As short as I was.” he ordered Gia. “He’s a Candidate.

Vane wasn’t an ordinary wizard.” The amulet surged with power. I looked at Gia.amulet to break me free. who seemed to be winning against the gargoyles they fought. While not as powerful as Merlin. but nothing came out. Vane caught it with his free hand. the giant waited for Vane. Another gargoyle jumped out of the crowd. He said. I didn’t get the chance. He leaned against it for support. but injuring the tiger only made it more lethal. The giant was obviously not a trained fighter. You can do this. The giant howled in pain as Vane crushed the bones. I tried to yell a warning. He landed at my feet. The crowd parted in front of me. The giant gargoyle came flying backwards. It took him about three moves to send the giant sprawling to the floor. She was watching Blake and Grey. Ryan. Vane sauntered out of the middle. He drew a knife behind his back so it was barely visible. The crowd hollered with drunken enthusiasm. dissipating Vane’s freeze spell as it grew. Vane hissed as the knife cut into his skin. and Vane certainly was. toward me. He stabbed the giant in the stomach and then ran the knife all the way . A faint sheen of blue spread out from the gemstone. When Vane got close. “Help!” I had an image of Matt standing next to a pillar. The knife started to fall. I could see Grey and Blake fighting with two other gargoyles. The giant got up slowly. “Concentrate. Vane didn’t flinch. He ducked under the giant to get up against his chest and grabbed the giant’s wrist. and the spell still held a great deal of strength. As I struggled with it. the giant jumped up and slashed Vane in a clumsy movement across the chest. “Matt!” I cried. Behind him.

up to the gargoyle’s neck in one brutal thrust. I didn’t move. The rest of the freeze spell fell away. His expression almost detached. but he seemed to remember himself. I yelled. He walked straight past to the stairs. Around us. I went cold. “Vane. My throat released. Grey rode up front and I had been squeezed in the middle. In one burst. The crowd remained quiet. My amulet surged with power again. I don’t know what he saw. next to Vane. “Let him go. Any sudden movement and I feared Vane would go over the edge. “He’s a gargoyle. growing quieter as the fight turned sinister. “You monster! How do you live with yourself?” Vane didn’t answer her. Grey and Blake came stumbling forward. please. “Vane. Gia and Blake sat on one side in the back.” I replied. She touched the gaping wound that covered half the giant’s body with trembling fingers.” Vane looked at me. The giant wasn’t dead. the crowd seemed to still. “What the hell was that?” Gia said beside me. He’ll be . it threw off Vane’s spell. He walked toward me. I didn’t dare. but with one quick correct slash of the knife he could be. The red-haired girl ran out of the crowd to kneel down on the floor beside the fallen gargoyle. He didn’t want to listen. “Our cue to leave. stop!” Vane’s eyes met mine. They had watched it all. Vane didn’t stop when he reached me. Vane scrutinized the bleeding gargoyle. He dropped the giant. watching Vane warily. *** I stared at Vane in the taxi. He gave me an irritated look.” I said.

“Vane. it’s Matt. He slowly relaxed.” Blake unlocked the gates.” I pointed to the tall iron gates visible by spotlights placed just behind the trees. We went past a crumbling building marked by three stories of stone arches. He’s there right now. Vane stilled. An image clicked in my mind.” Gia mumbled. “You were… playing with him. You could have ended it at anytime.” “With the trident?” Vane said. but why would he be there?” Vane barked a line to the driver in Greek. It was the park that led to the Parthenon. Inside it. Grey paid him while we ran into the park. Small. Tall trees swayed in the dark. windy pathways led us to the center with the lights. Down the path. “When we were in… the back room… I saw him. Soon we reached the gates that closed off the Acropolis. I could almost imagine myself back in Ancient Greece. “If you’re psychotic.fine. right now!” The driver mumbled something and kept driving.” “He wasn’t a fighter.” “Need I remind you that he pulled the knife? I taught him a lesson. I elbowed Gia and put my hand on Vane before he did something we’d all regret. Surrounded by fresh greenery. and I straightened in my seat.” Beside me. An uneasy silence fell over the cab. steps that led to a low stage. an arched . around which the city had been built. I grabbed the driver’s sleeve. “I don’t know. I could barely see the outlines of a Greek theatre. I stared out of the window.” I said. “Anutardati. The tires of the taxi squealed as the driver pulled over.” “Makes sense. “Stop. We went into a green section of the city.

making up the body of the building. although semi-ruined. Persistent grass and vines crept through the ancient stone. marked the end of the lush greenery and gave way to broken stone and dry earth. I could imagine someday they would wrap around the building’s pillars. A huge walkway led to several flights of block steps behind a mostly destroyed wall. Almost at the top. Lost in the glory of the past. We went up stone steps that stood long and wide. For a moment. I could have traced the body’s length. A loud pop sounded from somewhere ahead before the lights winked out. Gia and Grey wandered further down the building. I admired the illuminated beauty of the Parthenon. The long row of columns stretched far to the rear. Vane stretched the fireball until light shone through most of the building. the city sat quietly underneath the watchful gaze of the Temple of Athena Nike. only the steel scaffoldings of the Acropolis’s restoration crew brought me back to the present. disintegrating triangular top.gateway. The ancient citadel stood before us. I saw no one. and had I been a giant. Vane lit a fireball and we scrambled up the steps of the Parthenon. reminding me of the shoulders of Atlas holding back the night sky. Behind us. we reached a small. reminding us of how small we were in comparison. Cold wind blew at our backs as we climbed to the top of the Acropolis. Spotlights welcomed us forward. in total darkness. For a moment. . Small steps led up to a row of columns supported by a long. we stood still. high building that flanked the entrance of the Acropolis. “Are you sure he’s here?” Vane said.

he traced the line of my jawbone. “The temple dedicated to Poseidon and Athena. looking for the closest opening. I took a breath. He struck the trident against the floor.” Vane said. He searched my face. “Are you crazy?” I marched up to him.” Blake cleared his throat.” “The other building?” I straightened away from the soft whispers of the marble. lit up by floating sconces. I leaned against the cold marble. The Erechtheum stood not far from the side of the Parthenon.I caressed a marble column softly and the dark memories of the club’s back room came back in a rush.” Blake said. He turned and started down the steps.” I frowned. “I know one way to draw him out. “I’ll get Gia and Grey. Viewfinders lined the side of the temple where six statues of draped maidens stood supporting part of the temple’s roof with their heads. Through the columns. but fizzled quickly. Almost as if he couldn’t help himself. He stood in a long chamber with no roof. “Do you want to . “Didn’t Poseidon carry a trident?” Vane didn’t answer. Ahead of me Vane paused. His nostrils flared. These columns all look alike to me. I went around back and climbed up a short stack of steps where the building was most accessible. He marched back into the Parthenon building. “Maybe he’s in the other building. Shocks came out of the trident.” Vane came up to me. This is what I saw. “Absolutely. “The Erechtheum. The sconces darkened. A huge rumble shook the temple. I saw Matt with the trident. So good before it had all gone so bad.

“I know you haven’t had a vision. Around us. at least. When Perseus killed her. “I’m holding a trident. Athena and Poseidon were at odds over the city. His gaze fell on the amulet shining in the dark against my skin.” Matt’s lips twisted into a grimace. and she sprouted bronze metal wings that were too heavy to fly. To my relief. I didn’t think you would.” “Of the Fisher King. half-human. He said slowly.” “How is that possible?” I said. “You’re looking for something. Vane’s gaze fixed on the trident. and grandfather to the king of Athens who built this temple. “While you’ve been out… playing. “You kept it on. The creature they keep hidden is also a .” “Why do you think something is here?” I asked. Felt too much. I talked to Rourke. Athena cursed Medusa for the affront. The slow burn of heat in the pools of his eyes told me he hadn’t minded. Vane came up behind me. Athena kept the blood. “Poseidon had sex with Medusa in the Temple of Athena. her blood fell to the earth. Her eyes would turn anyone to stone. He said. He looked at me for a moment as if he couldn’t quite believe I was there.” Matt said. What?” Matt blinked. She gave it to Erichthonius who was half-serpent. Matt raised a brow. Twenty-five-hundred-year-old blood. the sconces flared to light.” “And possibly Poseidon’s before him. “Blood. She turned her into a monster—her hair became snakes.bring down this twenty-five-hundred-year-old place?” Matt lit a small fireball on his palm.” I shifted my feet uncomfortably. He’d seen too much.

For now. The floor started to shift.” “If this involves the trident. The trident hummed immediately to life.” Matt stared at the pedestal. “Jala. “The blood has special properties.” Matt said.half-serpent. It pulsed aggressively in my hand and I was pretty sure I could have blasted the whole side of the temple if I’d wanted to… except I didn’t.” Matt handed me the trident. I opened my eyes with a grimace. Water spouted from the spot we’d struck. “This thing is bloodthirsty. you may as well try.” Matt glanced around the temple as if he could somehow divine its secret. This may be the answer to his problem. “I can only blast things. The spout quickly became a gusher. “Nothing happened. “But there is more.” Vane stepped behind me and put his arms around me so we held the trident together. maybe we need to add an element. Water overflowed from the building onto the grounds outside.” I took the trident.” Vane’s eyes narrowed. The trident reluctantly ceded control. It hungered for action. Even so. How am I supposed to figure out if there’s something here?” “Try.” He slammed the tip of the trident against the floor. Matt waved a hand to relight the sconces. “Like Lake water?” “I don’t know. You have an affinity for it. the stone moving as something . The trident growled in disappointment. I tamped it down. “Now that you’re here. I humored him by closing my eyes.” “Yes. Vane and I stepped back.” “Special properties.” Vane said. Not just the cup. my leggings became soaked.

Without even a flinch. “I told you there . I shrieked when a forked tongue appeared. Vane grabbed the tongue and pulled the snake out of the eye. In a total girl moment. A whoosh sounded. “What if it’s another booby trap?” “I suggest you tell the nymph ‘no’ this time. I let out a breath as I whacked Vane on the arm. Something about it seemed familiar. Vane waded out into the water. “Agni. it spread quickly. A flash of blue and red magic stemmed the ice in its tracks. part of a row across the back of the building. yet deadly bomb.awoke.” Vane glanced at me when I came up to his side. From the center of the floor.” He poured it over my hand. He pulled me to the edge of the chamber. “Careful or you’ll ruin that pretty dress in the water. “Vane!” I yelled. I didn’t want to be entombed. I stumbled back into Vane. The pedestal was rounded at the top. a long monolith extended upwards. I reached out and smoothed a hand over its shiny apex. like a flower rising from the earth. It started to radiate outwards and everything it touched became frozen. Vane let go of me so suddenly I had to catch Matt’s shoulder to keep from falling. a pedestal. It trickled over my skin down onto the pedestal. A quiet. A flash of blue light blazed out of the pedestal right before ice froze it.” I said.” Matt and Vane yelled at the same time. Matt and I went after him. but I couldn’t quite place it. Matt followed us with the trident. We stood between two columns. He cupped some water in his hands. The top of the stone opened like a small eye. “Wait. He moved to pour it over the pedestal.

“This metal is unusual. I fell into the water with a splash. “Blast it with the trident.” He turned the snake over in his hand.would be a trap.” Gia’s voice echoed through the temple. “This is hollow. Vane laughed. You can find out anything. “Don’t tell me we missed all the fun. He turned the metal snake in his hands. jinx. Water seeped into every bit of clothing I wore. The blood must be inside. Stone shifted underneath me. and Blake stood at the perimeter.” “Ugh.” I commented. It’s tongue extended out of its mouth. “Glad you’ve thought this through. The iceencased pedestal sank back into the floor.” “Do you have any ideas?” Matt snapped. Matt waded through the water to peer at the snake. Not like anything I’ve seen. all the way down to my undies. Blast it with a . How do we open it?” “I’m not sure yet.” I muttered. The metal was a super-shiny bronze.” The twisted thing looked real enough. “It’s not real.” “I’ll run the properties through some databases I know. The water swirling around us disappeared. “I love the record-keeping of this time. eyes roving over my soaked dress.” Vane said.” He took the trident from Matt and struck the stone. Vane tapped the trident against the floor.” Matt bent to help me up.” Vane said. Grey. near the columns. “Didn’t I warn you to be careful in the water?” “Shut it. “Several. “I suppose it is worth something. Vane raised a brow. It’s some kind of metal. She.

” Grey muttered. “You would obliterate it and whatever is inside.” “The island of Triton’s people. Blast it with a gun.” Vane conceded. “It’s still closed. A terrible scream filled the sky.” Grey’s eyes lit up. Vane’s eyes locked on the trident. “But the answer is… no. You assumed it was Akrotiri. The snake flew into his hand. “Please tell me we’re not looking for that myth. “You don’t mean—” “Atlantis?” I made a face.” “What are we looking for?” I demanded. “Did it work?” said Vane. “Ex-exactly why do we need the blood? What are we looking for?” Matt said. Need I go on?” Matt snorted. We’re not looking for Atlantis. Matt waved his hand. “There must be a certain way.” Matt gave me an amused look. We need this for what we find on Thera. we’re doing this the right way. “Are you mad?” he shouted at Vane. “Now that we’re all deaf. We’re looking for Aegae.” Vane dropped the snake and shot a fireball at it. “Did you think we were going to Thera to look at an archeological dig? The trident didn’t say the city of Akrotiri. Not the lost island. “Isn’t all this myth?” He marched over to Vane and took the snake from him. Light .fireball.” “You could be right.” Wind swept gleefully through the open building and I shivered under damp clothes. No. Matt turned over the snake.” Vane finished for him. “It said the Lost City.

. The lapping water reminiscent of his touch— “Ryan. I thought back. allowing it to wash away the ups and downs of the night. I sank deeper under the water. where are you?” Matt knocked inside my head. I lay immersed in a hot bubble bath. My head and shoulders rested on a hotel tub that could have doubled for a small swimming pool and I could have stayed in it for about a year. “Leave me alone!” The bathroom door opened and Matt slipped inside. My hands retraced the route of Vane’s hands sliding over my bare skin.flickered over the sharp cheekbones and highlighted the green in his hazel eyes.” *** Later that night. he didn’t. “I need to talk to you now. No. “We’re hunting mermaids.” I jerked up in the tub.

CHAPTER 10 – GHOST CITY CHAPTER 10 GHOST CITY .

We come from a more brutal time. I’m not sure I want to. “Blake described the fight to me. Imagine a door between our minds. underwater I crossed my arms over my chest. A bloody bastard. Although the bubbles hid me.” I said through gritted teeth. go away. I’m kind of busy. “Matt.” He crossed the white tile floor and plunked himself down on the edge of the tub. Vindictive. What you were feeling burst through the crack like an avalanche. and sank back into the water.” He shut the bathroom door.” A tingle of unease went down my spine.” he said. He told me what Vane did to the gargoyle. remembered I was naked. “His life in Arthur’s court wasn’t easy.” My brow crinkled. “But that’s not what I need to talk to you about. “I couldn’t shut it out. I demanded. It’s disturbing. I left it open a crack. “Ruthless. “And?” “I know my brother. “Didn’t we talk about boundaries? Do you think you could at least try to stay out of private situations?” Matt’s cheeks reddened.” I glared at him.I straightened even more.” . “I’m not sure I can. I decided not to comment. The knights fought in one battle after the next and Vane can be…” Matt grimaced. What Blake described is not like Vane. “Matt. Ruthless is not the same thing as cruel and I have not known my brother to ever be cruel. “It’s about the club—” “I don’t want to hear a lecture on sneaking out.” Blushing.” A thought seeped out before he could hide it. “So you don’t think it was odd?” “More than odd. After the attack on the plane. His forehead puckered. in case you needed me.

something happens to the mission. This is a crusade.” “And tell you. He’s got a strange connection to the trident. If he does anything else unusual. Heaven forbid. “If we do this right. I knew. it would be big enough to cover the entire sky.” So much for caring. I said. I drew away from him. the vision had hung like a dark cloud above us. Soon. he reached out and tucked a stray strand of hair behind my ear. “How much do you care about him?” Matt stood up. “What do you want me to do. . It grew bigger and bigger. but now that cloud was swelling.” His lips twisted into a bittersweet smile.” “He won’t know. Matt?” “Keep close to Vane. he used the one argument he knew would work on me. “Nice to know you’re looking out for your brother.” Heat from his hand warmed my skin. I always thought deep down he cared about Vane. His palm rested against my cheek.” Matt said. but I was a little surprised to actually have him admit it. Matt. The door burst open.I stared at Matt. I didn’t feel strong enough to bear its weight. “We can hold it together. “Hello? In the bath!” I said. we stop a catastrophe that will devastate millions of lives.” “Consider what’s at stake if you don’t. I bit my lip. I’m not a spy. “Don’t miss the details.” Then. The image of exploding volcanoes filled my mind. The timing of it.” “It’s not a mission. That shouldn’t be hard for you.” he thought to me. Vane strode inside. So far. “It doesn’t feel right. And unlike Atlas. “I don’t like what this means.” To my surprise.

” Gia murmured. “You . I sunk deeper beneath the bubbles. With a scowl. Matt noticed the action too. “The gargoyle at the club. brother. but we both know it has no bite. “With him?” “He can leave too.” Vane stopped rubbing.” Vane raised a brow. His hands fisted. If you become a liability.Vane’s eyes flickered over Matt with a sneer. He rubbed his chest unconsciously. It’s still a deflection.” I snapped.” Matt said nothing. “Everything I say is true. “Is there a party in here?” “Party?” Blake’s voice traveled from further down the hall.” Matt crossed his arms. “Nice threat. “He’s worried you’re going crazy. but cleverly structured in your favor. You need me. Vane kicked the door shut in her face.” I was having a deja-vu moment. “Can you all just get out?” Vane’s gaze fixed on Matt. “Is that what he’s told you? That he’s concerned?” He looked back at Matt. Gia poked her head inside. “Not before you tell me what you were talking about in here.” I prompted.” “Yes. “You’re deflecting the issue away from yourself. I can have you sent back to Avalon Prep.” I said. “What?” Vane frowned. “That was crazy. I rubbed my forehead. “You need to take some time to re-center yourself. Hazel eyes blazed and locked on me. The exact spot where I’d seen his scar.

” “Then. but I eventually saw Merlin’s grand design. He watched my skin rise and fall. . Vane. “What are you doing?” “I’m tired of him getting inside your head. “You are out of control. You don’t know how.” Vane’s jaw tightened. walk away!” His gaze fixed on my neck and the amulet. I grabbed that one too… and seriously prayed my towel wouldn’t fall off.” Vane hit him in the stomach and pulled back for another swing. I’d actually forgotten I had it on. but you need help.” I touched the gemstone.” I looked at Matt’s profile. “Stop!” I grabbed an enormous towel and hastily wrapped it around me as I got out. There’s only one reason why I’m being allowed to tag along on this little venture—you can’t talk to the mermaids without me. Can we move on?” Vane looked at me in surprise. I don’t know if it’s the trident or something else. I dreamt all of it. you’ll make this a great deal easier.had this argument fifteen hundred years ago. Matt staggered.” Vane made a low sound of anger in his throat. “Vane. you need help. Matt pushed me aside. “I refuse to fight you. The bottom edge got soaked and slapped uncomfortably against my skin. straightened. “What?” “Merlin found you with Guinevere. Can’t you see what he’s doing to us?” He moved to punch Matt with his free hand. He kept his eyes steadily on Vane. You need my abilities. I ran to grab Vane’s fist before it could connect with Matt again. It took me a while to figure out. “No. then. “You can’t even remove it long enough to take a bath. He hurled himself at Matt and punched him in the face.

The door slammed behind him.” I said. It was an admission. A shock of blue light zapped him. He dropped the gemstone. Matt watched me without remorse.” A soft breeze blew behind me. “Vane!” Matt growled. Without saying anything. “I wonder if you could take it off.” With a final look at me. a burdensome weight. I had leaned the blade against the tub before I’d gotten in. “I couldn’t take the chance.” Before I realized what he was doing. The longer we were on this journey. raising the hairs on the back of my neck. Matt stepped behind me. I dropped the chain. I picked up a hairbrush. . The amulet reacted. The same shock of blue light zapped me. “Despite how he tries to convince you otherwise. Vane whirled on his heel and walked out.” Vane grabbed my chin and turned it toward Excalibur. I reached back to unhook the chain. isn’t it?” The amulet. I looked at Matt. I need to get dressed.but didn’t reply. the more alone I was starting to feel. Our eyes met in the mirror. bore down on my bones. Wincing. “You didn’t trust me. Going to the sink. the great Merlin only cares about one thing. He unhooked the amulet. Vane was right. I gasped in pain as the chain got caught in my hair and wrenched out a few strands. “Just go.” “Everything Vane said is true. “He’d sacrifice all of us in a heartbeat for it. Vane’s hand moved to yank the amulet from my neck. Vane’s fingers only tightened around the gemstone. I turned away from Matt. even if you wanted to.

I reached up to grab it.” I said.” Matt let go of the chain. “Vane is right about one thing. I could tell Clarence. The chain fluttered down against my arm. Grey. Sylvia. So did I. Matt rode in the front next to Colin. Somehow he convinced the gargoyles to join him. was not thrilled.” The amulet slid down my skin into the valley above my breasts. The island formed a rough crescent . “I won’t let it happen a second time. but Matt held onto the chain. I sat stiffly in the car along with Blake and Gia. It was only later I found out the purpose.He said. Colin. met us at the exit and directed us to a line of waiting cars when we landed. he came for Camelot. it was the morning before Vane went to fight the Fisher King.” “Camelot is gone. but he wasn’t the same. The amulet dropped into my hand. He was helping Mordred amass an army. Rourke’s bodyguard and enforcer. Vane. “Are you sure?” *** When did life become so complicated? I mulled this over during our flight the next day. He stopped seeing Guinevere after he came back. the main city on the western part of the island of Santorini. He lived. but he conceded under Matt’s direction. Matt. Matt floated Excalibur from the tub and laid it across the sink in front of me. Then. “In the memory you saw. The choice should be yours. and Clarence were behind us. We crossed the island fairly quickly—it wasn’t that big—and drove along the edge of a cliff to Fira. and the remaining guardians rode in the last car. and then he disappeared for months. the oldest wizard among us.

along the edge of the ancient caldera of the now submerged volcano. Even under the sun. Around the side of the house. Narrow steps made up the streets that wound up the cliff.” He glanced at Matt. Old metal bells swayed with the breeze. the one island had been called Thera. I saw a magnificent infinity pool that faced the sea. “Someone will get those. Fira. Rows upon rows of pristine white square buildings lined the breadth of the precipice. “Rourke . but Colin shook his head. the rock from the caldera was a mix of green. One wing has been set aside for you. It exemplified the pictures of Greek cities I’d seen on postcards. the winter air called for a sweater and I shivered as I got out from the red sedan. on the rocky cliff. There are over ten rooms in the house. we drove down the steep creamcolored streets and turned into the private drive of a multi-level house. In ancient times. Churches with peacock-blue domed tops matched the almost crystal blue waters of the Aegean below. lass. Blake.shape and Fira was built in the inside middle of the crescent. Once we entered the city. Gia. I went to the trunk to grab my bag. “It doesn’t get better than thirteen degrees. revealing a glamorous panoramic of the whole caldera. When Thera erupted. rose high above the water. and I crammed together at the window to get a good view of the city as we approached. some thirty-five hundred years ago. The blue waters of the Aegean Sea had swept into its cracks and made the three parts three different islands. the volcano blew the island apart into three pieces. Fira spilled over the cliff and disappeared down into the sea.” Colin remarked. red and brown. In stark contrast.

Master Emrys. Against the blue waters of the Aegean. white stucco building. yet that was the only sign of her age.” “Deirdre. I made a face when he grandly took her hand in welcome. Her face. but we don’t know how to open it. He stood at Sylvia’s side.is waiting for you. Rourke quickly sank back into the chair once she took the seat beside him. He inclined his head to the older woman. The wooden doors had only a simple white arch above them to mark the entrance. I’m sure you recall my mother. green doors. Several cherrywood patio sets had been placed poolside. A tight bun managed her silver hair. . another open-air courtyard revealed the infinity pool and beyond that. she could have doubled for the great earth goddess.” Deirdre looked at Grey with keen interest. I presume?” Sylvia’s mouth tightened. “You’re not well. “Yes. He leaned heavily on his walking cane.” Rourke said lightly. Demeter. although she glanced at Deirdre.” Sylvia murmured. Sylvia complied. although mature. “Your son. who remained standing. Rourke sat in one of the chairs with a drink. “It has been a long time.” I squinted at the long. the sea. had no lines.” Matt said bluntly. “We’ve found something. “Sylvia. “Any ideas?” “Greetings to you also. sit.” “Please. An older woman stood next to him.” Matt held out the bronze snake. Rourke rose as soon as he spotted Sylvia.” Rourke said. We followed Colin through skinny. The deep cushions on them though told me they weren’t a flea market find. Immediately inside. It didn’t look as if it had even four bedrooms.

I scowled. “What did I do wrong?” The sun shone directly over us. but remained standing. “And I thought wizards had better manners.Sylvia glared at Matt. I touched the amulet. Vane sauntered over to me.” As if that were enough of an explanation. neither the First Member nor a gargoyle matriarch could faze a wizard born more than fifteen hundred years ago. Did it matter that the choice left my stomach churning with acid? . He rocked back on his heels. I wandered to the pool. Are you hungry?” “No. However. an albatross weighing me down.” “Indeed. “What is it?” While Matt explained about Medusa’s blood.” I snapped.” Rourke watched Grey. Deirdre reminded me strongly of the Council’s First Member. My lips twitched. how was I supposed to tell him that I’d chosen… the amulet.” reproved Deirdre. no. I squinted to look at him. I’m not hungry. who’d meandered closer to the pool. “Still mad?” “I’m not mad. It sat once again on my neck. “It’s how you think. I sat down on a bench in front of a prickly cactus and wished my outside shell also had its razor-sharp needles. “Why do you think you’ve done something wrong?” “You’re a girl. “We’re all running short on time. I’d only picked at my breakfast this morning. Matt met her gaze without wavering.” I said shortly. But. I was a little. Actually. He shrugged. Rourke turned back to Matt.

His red hair sparkled in the sun. not made. They may be beasts.” I hissed to Vane. “Matt said gargoyles were born. I still don’t understand how I have gargoyle blood. “How long until the old man loses his . Colin watched Grey curiously. it won’t work. “And you’re wondering how long these friends will be friends?” I nodded. I heard Colin call her McKenna. “Gargoyles have excellent hearing. “Don’t worry. “If they’re beasts. aghast.” Vane glanced at Rourke.” I glanced at Colin.” Vane said.” “You knew?” I said. “We’re all friends now. His face was lined with fatigue. Grey would know. Vane’s lips twitched.” “Someone in your ancestry was a gargoyle. but they’re not wild. “But you’re a regular.“Do you want to beat up some gargoyles? They’re easy targets.” Colin’s head snapped to Grey. He left the other gargoyles and approached us. The gargoyles all wore such normal clothes and looked… well.” I rolled my eyes. I may be one also. “If you’re attempting to needle us. He slumped a bit in his seat.” “Funny. they won’t eat you in your sleep. DuLac. normal. Wearing casual trousers and a sweater. A girl gargoyle laughed at a comment he made. Don’t worry.” I’d only learned about my mixed blood a short while ago and no one had much explanation for me. he spoke in low tones to several other gargoyles.” I reminded him. “He heard us. We’re under orders from Rourke.

I stood.” “He’s not dead?” Vane gave a mock yawn. please. “Gargoyles. they’ll whore their magic to anyone who pays. “Our sword-bearer. The gargoyle forced his shoulders to ease. “Bring Excalibur.” Vane put his arm around my shoulder and hauled me against him. “Wizards. whom he topped by several inches. straightened to attention. It completely . he turned on his heel.” Colin crossed his arms over a muscled chest. They act as if they’re so superior.” Since Colin was practically shouting now. “Ignore. “I had a report this morning that you almost killed a gargoyle in a club last night. The wizard guardians.” “You know how to open the snake?” Vane asked.” He turned to me. Matt shook his head. Vane. who’d been milling at the entrance in case we needed to bolt. “Colin. Matt marched up to us.” Rourke said simply. but in truth.grip and you revert back to rabid dogs?” Colin scowled. I wasn’t surprised when the other gargoyles started to move toward us. His hands fisted at his sides. “We’re lucky the ruins just reopened after being closed for seven years following an earthquake. He peered down at Vane. We need to get to the Akrotiri ruins before dark. so adorable.” Colin’s face mottled with red color. It’s like trying to rid oneself of a pestilence. With a glare at Vane. “That’s why I need to look at the ruins. He held up a hand to halt Colin.” Rourke said. So much for not being needled. He’s menstrual. “We need to leave right away.

” *** ATVs were apparently a common mode of transportation around the rocky terrain of the island. It sparkled as it touched the roof. “I’ll go with you. which protected the buried city below. It took us about an hour to get situated on the hulking machines and down to the village of Akrotiri. her gaze locked on Rourke. Understanding flashed between us. Colin presented passes to guards at the entrance and we hurried inside. To my surprise.” Colin told us as we parked next to other ATVs. Matt. Gia drove. the machine seemed to purr for me fairly well. Colin and another gargoyle led the way. . “Ten meters of pumice fell on the city. with his usual disgustingly capable way. A sign in the front spoke glowingly of the recently renovated roof. “I’ll take the car.” I met Matt’s eyes. Blake and Gia sat on one together. “Seems to happen a lot. It took Vane and Grey about five minutes to become experts on them.” “Indeed. despite neither one having ridden one before. the vision of the tsunami still thick in our minds.” Sylvia frowned. We mixed in with the other tourists. but it will be faster if you go ahead with Colin on the ATVs. We passed a bustling tavern to turn off toward the excavation site on the eastern shore.” “Earthquake. The sun had started to sink a bit in the sky when we reached the ruins. a hulking sheet of stainless steel plates supported by galvanized pipes. mastered the ride as soon as he touched it.” Rourke stood up unsteadily behind us.collapsed the roof.

some two or three stories high. There are ceremonial rooms at the back. I was glad for their support.Under the volcanic rock. it’s rumored that many of them escaped to Aegae. Many frescos. I believe the Minoans traded a great deal with Triton’s people. We picked through the dusty ash and half-height crumbling walls into an area where the buildings.” He pointed inside one of the preserved buildings to a rectangular slab with a hole. “Two stories high with fourteen rooms on each floor. It is possible. sat solidly erect. “The historians think they might have fled the city when the ash started and gone to a nearby shore to wait for boats. It explains their great wealth of knowledge. he wasn’t telling. Matt led the way. The narrow streets of the small city barely contained the three of us. a snapshot in time.” Vane flipped through a pamphlet next to me.” Vane found a description in the pamphlet.” Behind ropes to ward away tourists sat large pots beneath windows of buildings. Somehow I found myself between Vane and him. It should have bothered me.” . Matt walked through the small town to a low building marked “Xeste 3. “It’s a bathroom. It tasted of panic and horror. still completely intact. Both flanked me in full bodyguard mode. archaeologists had found a perfectly preserved city. It didn’t taste right.” “Rourke says among the gargoyles. I had no idea what light-bulb of an idea he had us chasing down. Yellow artificial light bathed the eerie tomb. “There were no bodies found. They had indoor plumbing. inside this forgotten city of buried despair and inevitable death. I took a breath. and as usual. I wasn’t frail. However.

Vane gave me a crooked smile. Between wizards and gargoyles. I’ve hacked into Princeton University’s computer system. The entrance led to a dark passageway with cramped steps going up.” Gads. To the right. I saw Matt continuing down the short passageway into the rooms.” Colin said. Nothing but dirt and stone shone on the stripped walls. it didn’t seem like it. “How are you getting any reception in here?” Grey asked as he squeezed inside the room. I shrugged and hiked down. “I have electronic eyes everywhere. They did 3-D modeling of the frescos. The space was fairly big. “Convenient working with wizards. “The frescos have all been shipped to the museums.” “How do you know that?” I asked. He came in immediately behind me. “We don’t need them. I stepped into a long rectangular room with partitions in the doorways that led to other rooms. but with eight people inside. He lifted up a rope and went under the flimsy blockade to the ruin. no museum guard stood a chance. I remembered when Vane showed some video footage of Matt and me on our first date and I wondered if he really did. Matt’s fireball rose in the air to illuminate the area. It was a scary thought. He held a small fireball to light the way.” Colin commented. I hoped not. I glanced around. holding a flashlight. No tourists or guards seemed to be around. . Matt and Vane stood in the center of the room. Not that it mattered. “What if someone comes?” Gia hissed at me. Then.“That’s where we’re going.” Matt said. pointing down. Vane took out his cellphone.

Matt had shrunk Excalibur before we left Athens. “This isn’t it. Matt shook his head. . There were many pictures of colorfully dressed women. On the bottom. looking off into the distance. The middle maiden was sitting on a knoll. “Little help. I squinted at the picture. she held her foot. a host of blue monkeys were in various activities. but the room extended up into the first floor. In a sorrowful pose. The first maiden was mostly naked with a hand offered out.” A faint outline of the frescos appeared against the walls. three maidens were painted in various positions. “The guide book called this the Lustral Basin.” Vane said to Matt.With a few clicks. my eyes went immediately to a small flight of five steps that led down to what amounted to a hole in the ground. and another held the sword’s scabbard. The last maiden’s head was turned away. Around them. which was bleeding.” We went to the next room. past the partition. stood the most interesting part of the fresco. I touched the knife at my side. One strummed a harp. unable to see the watercolor images in the low light. Matt waved his hand. With an eerie feeling of familiarity. In thick oil paint. colorful frescos of aquamarine swallows dancing between red lilies appeared.” Vane peered down over the hole. “Likhati. Straight in front of us. Once Matt lit the area. Frescoes lined the bottom of the walls as well as the top. I gasped. It was a deadend. He waved a hand in the air. Behind us. another played with a sword. two shapely maidens wore elaborate jewelry. Vane pulled up an image. though.

While I had kept my clothes on. “Remind you of something?” Blake said from behind me. I nodded. To her left was a blue monkey and to the right.” Vane read the inscription for the painting on his phone.” He waved his hand.” he directed. Long flowing locks on the maiden’s head supported a crown of dots decorated by a looping band that ended in two spiral tongues. I followed the line of dots from the crown to the maiden’s shoulder. what happened after the drink had left me more naked than I’d ever been in my life. Let’s bring it together. a griffin. He tapped on the touch screen phone. The maiden held the griffin with a rope while he tried to climb the throne. “Look at her hair. There’s more. Spread out across the bottom wall. The older man held what looked like a jug in his hands.“An initiation ritual on the north wall. Matt pointed up to the top part of the wall. This piece is spread out over several rooms. On initiation to Avalon Prep. Matt took out the bronze snake from an inner pocket of his biker jacket. flicking out its forked tongue. The picture changed. we’d drunk Lake water. following our train of thought. It had a picture of a man on the bottom and some kind of plant above. Next to a large window. three naked youths. “Wait. and one older fellow performed some sort of ritual. Vane pointed to the left wall. “Lake water?” Vane asked. The monkey was presenting the maiden with a bouquet of flowers. four men. . “Medusa?” Vane asked. A snake slithered up her neck and moved horizontally through her hair. a maiden sat on a stepped altar or throne.

aren’t you. apart from Matt and Vane. “Yes. Everyone in the room. by Apollo. I need you to go down. “She is a daughter of Apollo?” Sylvia said. He floated it to me.” Rourke said. I took it. my family line had been blessed or cursed. He opened his coat and pulled out a miniature bow.” Matt said. “It’s the answer. stared at me. “Blood. “We also need light. They are leading you toward the east wall. The fresco showed a pair of horns from which red drops dripped down to an altar. not blue. Sylvia and Deirdre ducked in after him.” We all turned to the right. “Impressive. it’s red.” Matt pointed me at the basin. The cane dragged loudly against the stone floors. depending on how you looked at it. “Full of surprises. “We need a daughter of Apollo.” Matt said. They looked around at the frescoes with wide eyes. He commanded. The . Somehow. It was the reason Matt and I would never be together. Prolonged physical contact between us blocked his visions.” Vane said. “Why a daughter of Apollo?” Rourke asked “I’ll explain in a bit. lass?” Colin commented.” “But what does it tell us about opening the snake?” I asked.” Matt continued. “First. “Gantavya. what does it mean?” Rourke’s voice came from the doorway.” and punched a fist at the ceiling.” “Why?” I eyed the creepy hole and its crumbling steps with misgiving. ignoring my question. He didn’t know the half of it. it grew until it became a regular sized bow. With one word. “More than impressive. Look at the three maidens.“But in the fresco.

“I hope you’re going to fix that. “I don’t even have an arrow.roof groaned above us. Colin muttered. Grey eyed the trident skeptically. With a faint whisper of blue light. it lightened my mood… until he plunked Medusa’s snake in my hand. The hissing tongue of the metal snake had a groove at the edge that settled snugly on the string.” My grip tightened on the bow I held.” Matt commanded.” “What?” I squawked. “How many things do you have in there?” Gia asked. Hit exactly that spot or you’ll hit Ryan below. “It’s a simple displacement spell. I need you to stand here. I put it between the string and the bow and realized with a start he was right.” Matt laughed. Matt took out what looked like a metal stick from his pocket. Steel poles that made up the aluminumcolored roof bent downwards to form a hole in a perfect circle. It was the first time I’d heard the rich vibrant tone in a long time. Matt shrugged.” Blake murmured.” “Simple isn’t what I’d call it. “Send a blast exactly where the monkey’s hand meets the maiden’s on the painting. The rest of the recently renovated roof remained intact. “Here is your arrow.” “Grey. riding on the back of his Ducati. “Why?” . The last time I’d heard it was speeding along the winding roads of Concord. He held out the trident to Grey. Red rays of the fading sun streamed inside. I continued to stare at the cool metal snake in my hand.” Matt directed Grey. “Aayat. For a second. the stick lengthened into the trident.

one of whom is Medusa. The walls are slightly angled. The Gorgons. the fireball bounced back to Matt.” he whispered in my head. A friend. what are you doing? This is an ancient site!” But instead of it blasting a hole in the fragile wall. “It’s ridiculous. “That friend is you. Why else would the snake be an arrow?” “Trust me. I gasped. the blast will bounce off the wall and build energy. not in absolute straight lines. Triton’s people were said to have been gifted a metal that no one else had. He shot a fireball at the wall. “Look it up. Matt waved at the chamber. were the guardians of Apollo. “Matt.Matt thrust out his hand. however. I’ve never seen such a thing before. Look at the shape of this room. The pictures point to the basin and. all is not as it seems.” Vane said. Gorgon markings protect Apollo’s temple. When Vane blasted the snake with a fireball in the temple. In all the history of the Minoan. But what if it was something else? The Akrotiri are the link between Medusa and Triton. This is it. And the picture of the goddess on the wall. “When Grey hits that spot on the fresco.” Matt pointed to Vane’s phone. Only she can open the head. but I have read about it. “It’s a test. they talk greatly of their metals—bronze. Vane scowled as if he heard Matt. I noticed that the metal felt oddly cold.” He looked at me. “See. This ritual room was built very carefully. if you think about it.” “That sounds convoluted. may possess the snake. We were looking for a key.” . He caught it and it dissolved.” He moved to hand Grey the trident. Enough energy that when Ryan shoots the snake it will have the power to open the snake. only the daughter of Apollo could make such a mark.

He’ll be fine. The shot barely missed him. “Face the altar with the horns. “Your projections must be absolutely accurate. I cried.” Matt said.” Grey replied dryly.” I said to Vane.” Grey said from above. “I haven’t strung the arrow!” “Crap. I started toward the hole. With slow hesitant steps. I looked up.” Matt peered over the hole.” I thought back. “Alright—” I was still turning when a trigger-happy Grey blasted the trident. “Matt hasn’t been wrong so far. Feet rustled across the stone floor above. The east wall.” Vane gritted out. “Everyone step out of the room. It started bouncing around like a crazy . “He’s a trained Candidate. It boomeranged to another wall and then back down into the basin. down at me. “Are they always like this?” “Pretty much. The blast has to start off at the correct spot or the angles won’t work out. Matt dropped to the ground on his stomach.” “Alright. I saw nothing but the red sun. I cried out when a green fireball scraped my shoulder and blasted into the wall beside me. Matt smiled sheepishly. Mom. “It’s your conjecture that’s suspect. bossy.” Rourke glanced back and forth between the two brothers. At the bottom. surrounded by a cage of stone. I heard Sylvia ask Matt.” “They’re accurate. A whirling ball of yellow light whizzed by above me. “Are you absolutely sure about this? What if Grey is just a bit off?” “Thanks for the vote of confidence.” Gia murmured from beside Blake. Above me.Matt’s brow arched.

. Thanks for caring. “I thought Emrys told me to go. I waited. “That might be something you would do.” I hurried back down the steps. It got brighter the longer it went. “No more games. green. Vane pointed me back into the hole.” Grey gave me a sheepish look. Against the red sun. Ragnar. The fireball sailed over me in slow motion. It took minutes for the fireball to fizzle out. his hands fisting. “You could have killed her.” Vane gave him a long steady look.” “Did you see the shot?” Matt said. The fireball bombarded the shield with hits.superball. I heard him murmur to Matt. Finally.” Vane stalked to Matt.” Matt blinked. he ground out. and in one smooth move.” “You know I can’t. Grey looked at me mournfully. a blue and red shield surrounded me. I pulled my arm back and let the arrow fly. “Let’s get this over with.” I said. It zinged above me. “Is it true? Did you signal Ragnar to go early? Did you risk her to test me?” Matt held his ground.” “I’m fine. Grey fired a blast from the trident. “Maybe Vane should fire it. shall we?” His shoulder bumped Matt’s as he stalked out of the room. which Matt returned. The blue and red shield faded I ran up the stairs in time to see Vane yank the trident away from Grey. He said furiously. or I’ll skewer you with that thing. I saw the green fireball clearly. Suddenly. I was right. “It was yellow. then. “Get it right this time. hooked the snake on the bowstring.

caught the snake before it put a hole in my head. I pulled the tongue.The snake arrow nailed the green fireball. It spun in place. I reached up and plucked it from the web. The snake sparked for an infinitesimal moment in time and then plummeted down with extreme force. The snake opened. It slid out like the stopper to a bottle. . I threw my hands over my head. A crack ran down the center of the hissing tongue. A web of blue magic. The red sun flared. The snake hung in the air. Matt’s magic.

CHAPTER 11 – HOLDING ON CHAPTER 11 HOLDING ON .

Matt pointed to the fresco of the four men. He held a gun at the back of Grey’s head. but the sword-bearer does and that’s enough. Matt crossed his arms. The rest of the group wandered in from the doorway. “What makes you think I care?” “You may not. Colin. Now. sword-bearer.” Colin said calmly. A bullet zinged through the air. “Now. Vane took a step toward me.” Gia said. It scraped my arm. Give me the snake and I give you your brother.” Colin said.” Blood dripped from my arm. sword-bearer. but one I could slip undetected around the wizards.” “Ugh. sword-bearer. “Colin. “Drink it. I command you—” “Save your breath.I ran up the steps of the creepy basin and held the snake out to Matt. walk toward me. I stemmed the wound with my free hand. . or we’ll see how much damage I can do to your brother’s head. Sire. “Give me the snake.” Vane raised a brow. Colin stood behind everyone else. You never thought to check for regular weapons. “It worked!” “What do we do with it now?” Vane said.” “Don’t worry about me. “A crude weapon. “Think about this. We’ll never let you out of here. I agreed. I almost dropped the snake. “What the hell?” Vane said.” Colin commanded as he tapped the gun on Grey’s head.” Rourke leaned on his cane. Master Merlin. “Nobody moves.” Colin interrupted. get me the snake.

. “But you are next in line.” Rourke said. By all rights. my dear. the snake.” “I knew that dog was behind this. but she is still a regular. “He is not.” Colin knocked the barrel of the gun on Grey’s head. I have served faithfully since I was a lad. Your family line.” Rourke said. My fealty must go to him. But I feel his presence pressing down on me. I smelled it in her blood. “Where is he?” “On his way.” Rourke said. My heart raced so fast I thought it would fly out of my chest. but he was older.” Rourke said.” Deirdre burst out. There is another. but you are weak and you’re losing your grip over us. Oliver will be the new king. hand it over.” Vane muttered. “My half-brother had a wizard father. my real mother. “You’re… you’re…” “No. “Do you want Oliver as king?” Colin frowned. “You mean her. “I am sorry I have to go against the family. “What are you doing. I never knew him. “You are not my father. And I allowed him to believe it because I needed to protect another. Please.” “Oliver will not be the new king.” Colin looked at me. “Now. “Since he turned against us. Your father was his half-brother.“How dare you!” Deirdre snarled. had never talked about my father. we have known he would not be a fit king. Deirdre?” Sylvia said.” My eyes widened. “Oliver thinks you are his sister because his mother did. “Colin.” “Push it back.” He looked at Grey. “I do not. the throne should have gone to him. My mother. Those of us who are stronger broke free first.” Sylvia said.” Grey snarled.

Since we brought you back. Blue and red magic blasted him at the same time as Matt and Vane both fired at once. “You will become one. Colin crumpled facedown onto the ground. It is not the future you’ve always envisioned. “Tell me you were just making that up. You are not full-blooded.” “I am not a gargoyle!” Grey shouted. I’d used Excalibur to take life. “Out cold. I’d wanted to throw up. not for several years yet.” Sylvia stepped in front of Rourke. he never accepted his gargoyle nature and the role fell to me. After Alexa… after what the gargoyles had done to her… after what they’d done to my mother. acute sense of smell. You were destined to be more .” “Once he transitions. Vane walked over to him and turned him over with his foot. Blood stained their hands. You’re transitioning. “I am sorry. I’d killed too. Vane said. Blood stained my hands too and no matter how much it sickened me—I knew if I had to—I would do it again. Aggression. ability to sense the beast even when it’s masked. You have the gargoyle in you.” Rourke clutched his cane tightly. The signs were there. he will ascend to the throne upon my death. “Low sex drive.However. things have been different.” “No!” Grey denied. My heart twisted for him. so it took an extraordinary event to turn you. Grey. Yet. The barrel of Colin’s gun eased just a fraction. but you are still a Ragnar.” He glanced at Gia.” Grey picked up the gun and pointed it at Rourke. When I’d found out I had gargoyle blood in me. “Hopefully. No one can take that away from you.

It almost broke me to give him up to his father. The building shook. “Your father was my son.” Making a face. The doorway crumpled. She looked at Grey. My mother always assumed my father must have begotten a bastard since she knew he’d always been in love with another. Blake and Gia ran up.” Oliver said from the doorway. “This just keeps getting better. Every single pipe that held up the steel roof began to collapse. “Everyone! Gather in the middle. He shot a fireball at the doorway. Soon I shall have everything I deserve. He is the key.” Vane muttered.” Deirdre said.” Vane moved quicker than I could see. Oliver’s eyes glittered. “Please. but I knew he wouldn’t have survived in our world. This I could not have imagined.than just the head of a bank. . “We have to take Colin. “What an interesting bit of family history. the rest will submit. I would like nothing more than a chance to welcome my grandson back.” Rourke said. Shouts came from the other side. Grey picked up the unconscious gargoyle. grandson.” “I don’t think so.” Matt ordered.” “Giving up on me so easily. The thousandyear-old walls shuddered as they might have on the day the great volcano erupted. The other gargoyles hold him in high respect.” His eyes turned to me. If he follows you. Sylvia helped Rourke cross the room. “Son. Vane looked up and muttered a magic word.” Deirdre moved to stand beside Sylvia. “Not that it matters. grandmother. A breeze spun around him and grew until it became a tornado. Give me the snake. Vane flexed his hand and the tornado exploded into a wave. I have this place surrounded.

Congealed.” Blake added. Vane sat on the ground. “There are too many buildings to provide them cover. “I cannot kill my son.” Vane snapped.” “I’m the only one who has visions. Beneath us. You know I’m the only one who can do this. Deirdre put her hand on his shoulder.” “No. nothing happened. “I don’t think anyone will notice the hole now. Matt and Vane carried us to the first available spot on the ground. Matt let go of my arm.” We floated up in the air and out of the hole. He held his other hand out to Blake. We gathered in a tight circle.” Rourke said.“Hold on to each other. He looked at Matt. “I doubt they’re dead. With a sigh of relief. brownish-red goo came out. “Buried once more. breathing hard.” Matt slipped the snake out of my hand. he rocked back on his heels and .” Matt said.” “What do we do now?” I asked.” Matt said and grabbed my arm. “I can take care of that. “Upari. He cupped one hand and poured out a few drops. For a moment. I held onto the snake. “Let’s see if this has been worth it. Matt put a restraining hand on his shoulder. The others followed suit. Vane grabbed me around the waist. You have no idea what it will do.” Rourke murmured. the roof much like crumpled aluminum sank on top of the city. Then. “They’re trapped. They said together.” “I don’t care. That’s enough. Matt put his palm to his mouth.” Matt held out his hand. “You can’t drink this. Rourke gazed over the crushed mess.” Vane flexed his hand.

He licked his lips as if he could see me. His eyes . showing off razor-sharp fangs. Vane caught it before it could hit the ground. “I wait for you. Two pillars. Water lapped my thighs as I straddled him. “Blood! It’s coming out of their ears!” I heard Gia yell from far away. it went on. I gasped at the sound. Through murky water. He took a few steps toward her. but hard.” he whispered. he screamed. jagged ones. but Vane grabbed me. pretty images. In the dark of my brain. Saliva dripped from his mouth. Inside my head. I froze in place. Not soft. I ran from the monster. He fell to his knees. Unrelenting. We fell backwards on the beach. I ran and ran out of a tunnel until I found myself on a white beach. A monster with glowing eyes and the face of a bull smiled with yellow teeth. I tackled Matt in the water before he could reach her. The Siren shrieked in anger. I turned my face into his chest. The island floating atop it. Matt stared out at a naked woman singing and frolicking in the water. The snake fell from his hands. Images flashed inside my head. I would have fallen too. Matt threw his hands to the sides of his head. The flap of a winged seahorse flew over an underwater island. My eyes squeezed shut and I screamed silently because the sound was too big for my vocal chords. I saw mountains and valleys made of rock and a rainbow of different fish and sea creatures.his whole body trembled. each one piercing through the delicate folds of my brain. A crimson gate marked with gold carvings. A blue monkey that laughed and laughed and laughed. The Siren smiled.

no cornea. “Matt. without a doubt. I knew. devouring the life from every molecule. Matt. exploring it. I moved to sit up. Matt. but a hand tangled in my hair and pulled me back down. licking it. “Snap out of it. Nothing happened. “Matt. just gray. the black seeped closer. come on!” I shook him with desperation. The Siren had disappeared. Everything disappeared but the beach. His eyes were completely gray. I put my hands on the side of his face. No pupil. his skin blue with cold. allowing him to take what he needed until nothing inside me remained. The amulet sparked to life. his head halfway into the water. Behind us. his arm going around my . I glanced behind me. He smashed my lips against his. The sky shrank more and more.” I said happily. I looked up. Around us. “Wake up. Only an inky blackness filled the space and it closed in on us with an overbearing malice. it meant to suffocate us and I had no idea how to stop it. his eyes lost to life. The edges of the sky turned dark and the world started to shrink. Matt sat up.were closed. Sudden heat burned my neck. I slumped on top of him and tried not to pass out. the Siren laughed.” I clutched his shirt and shook him. My fingers wound in his hair.” I shouted at him. Leaning down.” His eyes opened and I gasped. I brushed my lips against his cold ones. It weighed down. He lay unmoving. His tongue dove into my mouth. no iris. We were running out of time. Nothing happened. I held on. The aperture shut. Matt! My soft plea was the last ember in a dying fire. “Get us out of here. I hit him as hard as I could across the face.

We sat on the ground in the same position as we’d been on the beach. I was in Matt’s. Little more than a ragdoll. Through blurry eyes. Just walked off. Last of all. So bright. I looked around me. Grey.shoulder to hold me to his chest. plus eaten dinner. It tasted like seaweed. Matt held me in his lap and I couldn’t move. blue light flew out of it. Deirdre. I compelled my eyes to focus. Every bone and muscle in my body ached. “That was seriously hot. No more baths for me. I met Vane’s eyes and my heart broke a little. They’d seen me… and Matt. I eyed the glass. uncomfortable. but . They’d seen it all. Sylvia. He raised his other hand and a brilliant. Except I wasn’t in Vane’s arms. I saw the blue light force back the darkness. I couldn’t see anymore. Vane had not ridden back with us. I’d seen the tracks of an ATV driving off toward the coast. It grew brighter and brighter until it surrounded us. we were back on the grounds by the ruin. but with every sip I took. Although I could barely stand. I’d drunk four so far. I took a really long shower.” Gia handed me a glass filled with some kind of green vitamin drink.” I put a pillow over my face and groaned. I’d wanted to follow him. “I hate myself. We’d come back to the house in Fira. They all looked shocked and alternately.” “Don’t stop drinking. With effort. Gia. Matt had forced the concoction on me. Rourke. strength returned to me. In a blink. my face fell against the crook of his neck. Blake. Vane didn’t say anything. *** Gia broke the silence first.

We ran after Blake down a narrow stairway and into one of the four living rooms in the house. “He’s figured it out. It had been too painful letting him go in the first place. The one silver lining in all this was Colin. I couldn’t even look at Matt. . To Grey’s consternation.” Gia and I jumped up from the bed. or so I’d thought.” “That’s disgusting. There was a perfunctory knock sounded at the door before it burst open. Even if I’d insisted. the big gargoyle had taken to following him around like a puppy that had misbehaved and wouldn’t stop until he got a pat of forgiveness.” I said. “Give the bro some time. Blake poked his head inside. and I had yet to hear the growl of another ATV returning to the house. And that kiss…” Gia plopped down next to me with a sigh. I couldn’t have followed him. I stared out at the emerging night sky. hardening quickly into inky black.Grey had stopped me.” were his exact words. We went in one with wall-to-wall books. “I thought he was going to eat you up. a heavy shade of dark blue. That was two hours ago. I’d built a wall around those feelings. Except I think he might have. while Rourke sat opposite him in front of several LCD screens. I didn’t want to see what emotions lay in his eyes. Matt and Rourke poured over marine navigation charts of the surrounding sea on a long wooden desk. My body felt leeched of all energy. I couldn’t allow myself to get sucked back in. making them impossible to breach. “I thought I would die when you straddled him. Matt was standing and leaned over the table.

A valley with a doughnut rock outcropping and . Rourke cleared his throat.” Matt said in exasperation. I murmured along with the shifting images of rock formations. His appeared deep and dark. only reluctantly carrying a cellphone.” “I can magic paper. Matt had adapted so well to life in our time that it was a bit adorable when his medieval upbringing slipped through. “Past the caldera. laced with longing.” Gia cried. “I can’t magic that… machine. Gia rolled her eyes. but we do have a location.” “I told him to use the iPad. Matt stared at the sea charts. He hated using tech. I forced myself to straighten and took a step away. Matt caught my elbows. then right into Matt. coming to a breathy stop in front of Matt. “I had to guess at few of the formations. “I want Ryan to review them. Gia slipped on the stone floor and bumped into me from behind. I studied the lines marked by highlighters on the charts. The exception was his bike—he worshiped the Ducati.” Gia and I looked at each other.” Rourke said. Our eyes met for a brief second. “Sorry.” Rourke pushed a button and underwater images played in sequence on the giant screen TV. “This is what we saw in the vision?” There was a pause before Matt answered. “I drew out all the images and Blake scanned them into the computer. A pointed mountain with a face.” Blake muttered behind me.“You found it?” I said. She saw them too. “I had the perfect app.

“Sure.” Rourke shrugged. I see one right here.” It went for another five sequences until the clip stilled. “Funny. the video paused on a blank area of water. There was one other questionable match I pointed out.” a slightly slurred voice came from the opened glass doors that led out to the pool.” Rourke said. “In the Calypso Deep. Finally. but somewhere in the deep dark.” Matt said. a gateway to the island. I’d seen the glowing eyes of a bloodthirsty monster. “Marked by two pillars. His eyes locked on me. Wait—” I looked at Matt. but the stories say it roamed a labyrinth under Crete. Vane slowly walked inside. They narrowed when he saw Matt and me standing together.” Blake made a face. “This one best matches the description and it’s just past the location from the last sequence. “What about the monster?” I asked. It is Minoan. you can be so close to him without throwing your clothes off?” “Are you drunk?” I said. not Thera. Blake frowned at me.” Rourke said. Another mountain with flatter rocks and deeper in the water.” “And that’s it? Gia said.” Matt said. “Are you sure this is the right one? I thought the rocks were even flatter.” “It makes sense. “What monster?” An image of calm waters showed on the screen. “Just on the other side of Greece in the Ionian Sea. I did see a naked Siren. “The Minotaur dates back to the same time as Thera.rainbow-colored fish. “I think it was a Minotaur. “Didn’t the Minotaur eat people?” “I didn’t see a Minotaur. . I can’t be sure.

Gia. Grey and I started a game of poker.” “You always know what’s best. I forced myself to stay. He brandished it unsteadily in the air.” “I’m seeing if you’ve done it right. Blake.” “I’m touched to have such a supportive girlfriend. Rourke opened his mouth in protest. He picked up an iPad and flipped through Matt’s scanned images. I sat down on a nearby sofa to listen to Colin play. I shook my head. and although all I really wanted to do was sleep. I held up my hand. Grey came in later with Colin in tow. “That’s enough—” I stepped on his foot to cut him off.” Vane sauntered over to Rourke’s desk and sat on its edge. Matt waved his hand and the snake flew from Vane to him.” Vane said dryly.” Vane reached inside his pocket and brought it out. but he dissected every detail of the sequences Matt and Rourke had put together.” Vane said. “Of course I do. He turned on the monitor by Rourke and started tapping away on its touchscreen. “What are you doing?” Rourke said. “Let Vane check.“Do you have the snake?” Matt asked. To my surprise. . I got bored after five minutes. After several losing hands. He’s the best at this. Colin sat at a grand piano and started playing a hauntingly beautiful song. We watched in silence as Vane went through the footage. “I think it’s best I keep it. Rourke and Matt watched him avidly. “We’ve spent hours collating these. Matt scowled. I gritted my teeth. I don’t know how much alcohol he had in him. I found myself released from the game.

I don’t know how much later, I woke up with a start. Gia and Blake were gone. Colin lay asleep on an armchair. Grey slept on the other side of the sofa from me. Vane, Matt, and Rourke hadn’t moved from the desk. I glanced at a clock near the TV. Two a.m. Ugh. I went to stand in a safe spot beside Rourke. Vane gave me a look that screamed, “Coward.” I arched my brow and mouthed, “Bite me, ” to which he responded with a glower. Vane turned the monitor to face Matt and me. “You saw eight formations in total. But a few sequences don’t match within the acceptable deviance. I’ve put together a few more sets. I want you to take a look at the following images side-by-side and tell me which one is more correct.” He tapped the monitor. Two images, one marked A and the other marked B, sprang up. “A,” Matt and I both said at once. Vane touched the screen. Two more images popped up, also marked A and B respectively. “B,” I said. “A,” Matt said. Vane touched the screen again. We did about twelve. Then Vane went back to playing with the computer. As soon as we were done, Vane tapped a few keys and turned the monitor back to Rourke. “Here… this is correct.” Rourke played the new sequences on the wall TV. I watched the whole thing and found the new sequences matched better. I didn’t doubt any of them. “He’s right,” Rourke said. “This is more accurate. I had us plotted at least twenty nautical miles off. We would have never found it.” He leaned heavily on his cane to get up. Seeing the strain

on his face, I moved to help him. “I’ll contact the boat captain right away.” Vane stretched and yawned. “You’re welcome. Now if you will excuse me—” Rourke’s cane crashed to the ground and his body started to follow. I tried to catch him, but couldn’t hold his weight. Matt moved quickly to help me. We managed to put him back in the chair. Rourke’s face was pale and in pain as he said, “I can’t feel my legs.” He clutched his arm and started to jerk in the chair. I looked at Matt. “He’s having a seizure.” Matt leaned down and put a hand to Rourke’s chest. A blue sheen of light flowed from Matt to Rourke and Rourke stopped shaking. The gargoyle king slumped in the chair with his eyes closed. Matt slumped heavily against the edge of the desk. “I’ve healed him for the moment, but he’s getting worse.” “Colin!” I shouted to the sleeping gargoyle. He awoke and got up in one movement as he spotted Rourke slumped in the chair. “Sire!” Grey woke with a start. “What?” “Get Deirdre,” I told him. “He’s had some kind of stroke.” Colin ran out of the room. In a little more than a minute, he, Deirdre, and Sylvia were in the living room. Sylvia and Deirdre crossed the room to inspect Rourke. “What happened?” Deirdre demanded. Matt told her, finishing with, “He needs bed rest.” Deirdre turned from Matt to me. “You’ve figured out where to go?”

I nodded. “Rourke can’t go,” Vane said. “He won’t survive the strain.” “You will take Grey with you.” Deirdre turned to him. “If your uncle passes, rule falls to you.” Grey stood up from the sofa. “I don’t want it.” “I know,” Deirdre said. “That’s why I know you will do everything you can to get the cup back to your uncle. Colin will go too, in Rourke’s stead.” Vane snorted. “We are not taking that traitor.” Colin blushed a deep red. “I regret my actions wholly. I have always protected this family, and only acted as I did because I thought it was in the best interest for all gargoyles. I bear no love for Oliver.” “Nice speech,” Vane said. “You are still not going.” Deirdre raised her chin. “If you want a boat tomorrow, you will take him.” “No,” Colin said. “They are right to mistrust me.” He drew out a knife from his side. It elongated into a sword. Vane put up a hand to blast a fireball at him. Colin turned the sword over, so the blade pointed at him, and knelt before Grey. He offered the sword to Grey. “Run me through if you cannot trust me. I offer myself to prove my fealty.” Grey gave me a “Help-me” look. I crossed the room. I held my hand out for the sword. Grey gave it to me with a “What-areyou-doing?” look. I took the hilt. Like Excalibur, the heavy sword was evenly balanced. In a move Vane had insisted I perfect, I arched it in the air and drove it with force at Colin’s neck. “Ryan!” Matt said. The sword sliced through a single blade of hair. His pupils

dilated, but Colin didn’t move. I stopped the blade just as it touched skin. Colin’s expression remained resigned. I drew the sword back. The blade had broken through soft tissue and upon my removing it, a thin red line of blood formed at the base of Colin’s neck. “What was that?” Grey exclaimed. “He wasn’t lying. He was ready to die.” I held the sword out to Grey. “Now you know.” Grey took it with an angry jerk. “You’ve been hanging around Vane too long.” I felt Vane’s eyes on me, but I refused to look at him. Grey glanced at Colin, who was still kneeling on the floor, and said with exasperation, “You can get up.” “I may go?” Colin asked, without moving. Grey looked at Matt. “Emrys?” Matt gave a slight nod. “I will not betray your trust a second time,” Colin pledged. “And I am satisfied,” Deirdre said. “Colin, please carry Rourke upstairs.” Colin and Deirdre took Rourke upstairs. “I will stay with him as well,” Sylvia said. Grey gave her a worried look. “Mom, are you sure? You could go to a hotel—” “We’re family. This is where I should be,” she replied. With a worried glance upstairs, she crossed to Grey and took his hand. “I have not told you, but Rourke helped us a great deal when your father passed away. Do what you can for him.” She gave his hand a final squeeze and left. “When do we leave?” Grey asked.

“First light,” Matt answered. “Rourke arranged the boat for six.” “Then, I’ll catch a few hours of sleep.” He looked at me. “Ryan? Coming up?” I shook my head. “I’ll be there in a few.” Grey gave a short nod and walked out. And that left Matt, Vane, and me. I stood across the room from the two brothers. Combatants lost in a timeless struggle, they stood on opposite sides of the desk. Vane had been watching me closely, but when I looked at him, his expression blanked. “Do you want me to stay?” Matt asked.

CHAPTER 12 – THE PILLARS OF HERCULES

CHAPTER 12 THE PILLARS OF HERCULES

Vane straightened away from the edge of the desk and began walking out. “Vane,” I said. Vane whirled around, hands fisted at his sides. “Do you two really think I can’t tell when you’re talking to each other? I started paying attention after the club. Every time you whisper to each other, the amulet flares with a blue tinge. I doubt anyone else can see it, but I know you too well, brother.” Matt crossed his arms. “About this afternoon. The snake—” Vane snorted. “It wasn’t the snake that made you practically devour her.” I took a step toward Vane, but I stopped at the sight of cold anger in his eyes. He said, “I thought you picked me, but you didn’t. You can’t have him, so I’m the default—” “That’s not true.” I said. Vane ignored me. “I knew it too. I thought it would be enough. It’s not. It will never be enough. Can’t you see what he’s doing to you? Every time you get closer to me, he pulls you back.” He crossed the room and came up to me. “This is real. Touch. Feel. I am real.” Vane grabbed the amulet. “This is not real. How long will you pine after a phantom?” I took a breath, hesitating. Vane’s expression hardened. “He made his choice. He picked the visions. Over you. Talk to me when you make your choice.” He dropped my hand and stalked off. I didn’t try to stop him. I stood rooted to the spot, awash in a swamp of guilt. I bit my lip so hard, it bled.

“He’s right. On the ceiling.” I put my hands to my head. “Considering our recent… closeness. I saw the trident.” Dark eyes drew me in. Blood-covered lips twisted . “He’s not right.” “Not out loud.” “Then I’ll say it out loud. It looked up. His dark gaze held mine steadily. remember? We need your visions.” He laughed. I lo—” “Don’t. I’d been in this tunnel before. “I’ve told you how I feel. I’ve lived with visions my entire life. and promising me everything. Daughter of Apollo. Hunger glowed deep in its eyes. It was feeding on something. I may have lost them already. I should take off the amulet. I didn’t know how alone I was until I met you. We have to stop this. “It doesn’t change anything. It glowed inside a dark tunnel.” Matt walked to me. Matt clutched his head.” I put my hands on his chest to hold him at bay. The monster flashed in the dark. Its teeth scraped off meat from the shank of some animal. beckoning me closer.” I put a hand on his mouth to stop the whisper of words that couldn’t be taken back. “The problem is I’m finding that I’m beginning to care less and less. whispers sealed behind an airtight door. Matt.” I frowned. long stalagmites pointed down like menacing teeth above my head. I realized.“Ryan?” “Don’t. Alone. Its eyes locked on me. They’ve always kept me apart. My amulet flared brightly. He grabbed the undersides of my arms and tugged me a little closer. Matt caught a strand of my hair and wound it around his finger in a soft loop.

This is the only path we have open to us. “Did you see the monster?” I said. My heart raced with painful force by the time the vision ended. Explosions of fire and lava as the underwater volcanoes blew now bombarded my mind. I pulled away from him. or the probability of it happening has become greater. It reminded me of Excalibur. The image shifted. “You need to let me go.” Matt didn’t say anything. It tasted tempting.” “We don’t have a choice. The thought disturbed me.” My eyes fell on Colin’s sword. It was telling me to ignore the longing I saw in his face.” “I know. As if it’s getting closer. It wasn’t a coincidence that Matt had gotten a vision as he stood on the razor’s edge of throwing them away.” I swallowed.” . I said again. wondering and worried about what was to come. A great tsunami rose high in the water and thundered hungrily toward land. It was a warning. keeping me where I was. I said. It didn’t taste bad. Grey had left it beside the sofa. “I have a bad feeling about this.into a ravenous smile. “It’s the same vision. Matt’s fingers dug into my arms.” I thought to him and took a step back.” “But stronger. “And the trident. I could taste the monster’s hunger in my mouth. It reminded me of the crowd of people all over the world. It’s all tied together somehow. His eyes flickered. “We need the visions. It reminded me how much was at stake.

Yet. “I’ll let you go. A red wound glowed just above my hand. bit-by-bit. I opened my eyes. An excruciating minute past two fortythree a.” Matt’s eyes locked on me with solemn promise. I froze. His nostrils flared like a bull’s. My mind slowly replayed the images of the latest vision.m. Out of the corner of my eye. I wandered down the tunnel again.“I know. I looked up at the long stalagmites. I got up. I picked it up. His teeth opened. Vane. Her countenance in sleep was easy and without worry. I walked further and further into the dark. I couldn’t sleep. I reached out and laid my palm on the monster’s heart. and a realization hit me. easing away. In a flash. I dropped Excalibur. something else nagged at me.m. With a jerk. I took another step back. had released a Pandora’s box of emotions that now swirled inside me. a familiar spot on his chest. My hand wrapped around the hilt. On his bared chest. Gia took in deep breaths. A slight tug and they would slip through. Fear clawed my throat. For now. My hair caught in his fingers. His eyes glowed with hunger. you will have to make a choice and I won’t make it easy. I stared at the clock. I don’t know what made me do it. Beside me.” *** Two forty-four a. dripping with bits of water. “But soon. . I shut my eyes. a bronze piercing mutilated a flat male nipple. Excalibur lay on a chair beside the bed. The snake. I saw the monster’s shadow. wide and menacing.” he echoed. the kiss. he stood in front of me.

I thought about saying something to Matt. I couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t freak out. Half of me hoped whatever Excalibur had helped me unravel the previous night had been a middle-of-the-night hallucination. I barely slept. In the pit of my stomach. Gia and Blake rode closely together. The views of the red and green caldera stretched out before . I saw Blake watching her. My eyes riveted on them. I had to figure this out by myself. Ahead of me. Vane caught my arm and hauled me back up. When we got there. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it. creatures carried us down the steep steps of the cliff with more or less good behavior. not to mention smelly. I knew time was not on my side. I did feel sympathy for a handful of people who were walking down the six hundred or so steps. Plan B was donkeys. No. urged his donkey ahead. without a word to me. especially after I saw one tourist slip and slide into donkey doo. I stared after him. Gia’s sharp features softened every time she glanced at Blake. Then. The hairy. I could have sworn my donkey did his best to knock over as many people on the steps as possible in an effort to win some kind of donkey bowling trophy. Colin took us to the top of the cable car that carried us down the cliff to the port. but couldn’t make myself do it. A group of fifteen left the house early. While it may have been more picturesque.*** The morning came without mercy. we found it broken. I almost fell when my donkey swerved in an attempt to clip another tourist. They laughed at some joke I couldn’t hear and when she wasn’t looking. He already distrusted Vane so much. but I knew I wasn’t that lucky.

Your Highness. “Watch it. I went down to the second level. The boat wasn’t a boat. not that I knew anyone who wanted to share with me at this point. It was a ninety-foot yacht. rectangular built-in seating area. A morning mist crept up from the crystal waters of the Aegean through the winding streets of the white city. with an open canopy. choosing to ignore the underlying stench of dung.” Blake said.us.” “As if you even know what it means. and Blake plunked themselves down on the soft cushions without prompting. Colin. “Your personal army. Yet. Colin led us to the boat on foot. I guess that meant I was sharing a bunk. I tasted the fresh air on the sensitive bits of my tongue and took in a cleansing breath of sharp sea air.” Gia said. that looked big enough to hold fifty. Grey tried to punch him and almost fell when the boat started to pull out of the harbor.” Blake commented to him. A square table with heavy painted bolts stood in the middle “Nice. Emerson. which was large. Gia. Brown plastic planks made up the deck and led to a long. or I’ll have you eviscerated. it couldn’t hold my attention for long. Colin explained it actually handled only twelve people. The boat showed us incredible vistas of the cliffs of the caldera. not just the fifteen of us. I climbed up steps to the top of the boat. Matt and Vane ducked below deck to meet with the captain. A luxurious living room with . I watched as we taxied out to sea for a bit. Grey. Grey’s face turned red. a crystal blue pool invited us to shed our clothes. Colin ordered the other gargoyles to stay with Grey on the upper deck. Once we reached the bottom. Just beyond the seating area.

inviting us to come deeper. The boat moved steadily in the water. I paused midway on the deck. He smirked. His arms went around either side of me. Clarence and the other wizards sat at a formal dining table tucked into one corner. they tell me. A finger traced the length of my spine from its base to my neck. I nodded to them and crossed to a small. “One spell and I’m sober… unfortunately. Open sea stretched out before us. His feet on the table. The deck had to be twenty feet long. He had an open liquor bottle in his hand. Seated in another small version of the built-in seating area upstairs was Vane. “You’re drinking when we’re going to who-knows-what?” One shoulder lifted and fell in a half-hearted shrug. His body crowded mine. Can’t get enough of me?” The glitter in his eyes told me to run. hulking behind me. “Can’t this boat speed up?” Behind me. I sighed. he leaned back on the cushions and watched the water. but not quite touching. “Dorothy. I decided to do the opposite. open deck at the back of the boat.” “How long will it take us to get there?” “Six hours. His fingers curled around the railing. faster.” I walked to the railing and peered over.a cream leather sofa and a bar occupied most of the space. I waved at the water. “Does . Almost. but not quite touching mine. the boat turned southwest. “Eager. I heard Vane’s boots hit the deck and I tensed. almost. As soon as we crossed one of the smaller side islands from Santorini. but he chose my spot. The hair at the back of my neck rose as he came up behind me. aren’t you?” His lips grazed the back of my ear.

” I said. His fingers wrapped around my throat. I put my palm on his chest.” “I am done. I shivered and it wasn’t from the cold. Vane caught my wrist. I’m done being—” “Easy?” I said dryly. “What are you doing. more to him than to the question. The finger paused at the base of my neck.” But I didn’t lower my hand. I won’t next time.” he said. It dug into my back. I twisted around to face him. His eyes hooded.” “You can’t displease me. “No touching unless you’re offering a lot more. The tiger was back and it wanted to play with me. I wanted to see the scar. right at the scar that hid under the folds of his thick shirt. His lips thinned. but it was a cold smile.” An odd glitter colored his eyes. The kiss took pleasure and . “Are you trying to be nice?” Before I could answer. Vane? I thought you were done being in the middle. I won’t care if it displeases you. He held it so tightly I thought the bone might fracture. “Patient. “It’s time to take.it call you?” “No. “I’m not. heated with a threat and a caress. “I stopped in the club. Hard lips slanted over mine. I don’t care who might be watching.” His lips curved up.” I said. but I definitely didn’t want to provoke him any further.” His voice washed over me. I’m done waiting. “Do you know how easy it would be to toss you overboard? To give you to the sea? A creature such as you would be a bountiful sacrifice. he took a step forward and squeezed me back against the railing.

” I kneed him as hard as I could in the groin. he pinned me in place. There was no emotion in his eyes. Vane didn’t give me the chance. Like a captured bird.” Legs. Hair curtained my face. “Arms.” I croaked. “Now I am being nice.” . my lips stung. “Are you alright in here? You’ve been putting on this wetsuit for an hour. You had to squeeze into the thing through a cutout at the neck of the suit. She knelt at my feet and commanded. Get up. “I knew it. No. She pulled the wetsuit over my hips. Swollen. I sat in my bikini on the edge of a bed in one of the bedrooms on the bottom deck. I wasn’t okay. I forced myself to stand. The door opened. “Get up. When he finally lifted his head and released me.” Gia walked closer and took the wetsuit from me.laced it with pain. “Legs. “Still feel nice?” “This isn’t y-you. My throat felt abused. “It is now.” she said.” Mine narrowed in response. He fell on his butt and blinked up at me with a befuddled expression. I struggled to tug on a slippery-as-an-eel wetsuit. He traced a finger along my throbbing neck. Gia came inside.” *** My body still shook three hours later. I took a breath and put my legs into the rubber. My lips twisted in a small smile. I couldn’t have responded even if I wanted to.” I bent my head. I pushed him off me. “Fine. He grunted in pain. Assaulted. I wanted to kill him with my bare hands. You’ve been pushing yourself too hard.

Gia. I let out a noisy wail. I ended by saying. The final piece was to pull on the over-the-head panel. However. When I finally quieted. Gia stopped in the mid-zip. We’ll always be Candidates as long as we have cause. “It was Vane. Ugly bruises covered the skin.I complied.” “Shouldn’t you tell Merlin?” Gia said. We’re Candidates. “No.” She let me cry it out.” I glanced at Excalibur. she handed me a tissue.” “No. he needs to concentrate on the trident.” Gia looked at me.” “You’re wrong. you’re not. and zip up a chest zipper to streamline everything in place. “We’re family. I turned around and hugged her. “He hates me. Anyway. “No. wasn’t it?” Gia said.” I shook my head.” She put a hand on the underside of my forearm in an act of solidarity. The suit took whatever body heat I had and fed it back to me. “I’m fine. “What happened to your neck?” I glanced in the mirror on the wall above the head of the bed. “We’re not Candidates anymore.” I stood up. We stick together.” Warmth seeped into my skin.” I yanked the head panel over me and cinched up the suit. Matt doesn’t see straight when it comes to Vane. I told her about what I’d seen in the vision with Excalibur’s help. “I’m going to kill him. this warmth had nothing . “There’s something going on and I’m going to find out what. The dam of ice holding me together broke. “I’m going to do this on my own. pull the drawstring tight. I lifted my hair to expose my nape.

” “He’s my mate. but I noticed she took an extra long time pulling the neckpiece on and zipping up. Were you planning on seeing this fun adventure through or having a slumber party?” Gia and I lay on the bed with our wetsuits half on. “Ladies.” I rose up on my elbows. “Fine as long as you help me get out of the wetsuit. He would make a nice snack for the sharks. Tell me if you change your mind about youknow-who. So did I. She smoothed her hands over the wetsuit. we’ll be there in half an hour. And for those few moments. “She likes you.” She marched out of the room.” She frowned. brushing Blake lightly as she passed him. “Slumber party sounds like a better idea. giving Blake a nice view of her barely-there bikini top.” “You do that. Gia didn’t react. I smiled. which already clung to her curves like paint. I suppressed a smile when Blake’s pupils dilated.” I said.” Gia stood up. “I’ll be upstairs.” Blake’s face turned beet red. we were normal. Blake stepped inside.to do with the suit. “I hope she doesn’t mean me. “I think he has other things on his mind. I’d forgotten what an anchor it could be.” She laughed. “What about Grey?” I raised a brow. I should ask him. Blake stared after her. I asked the next obvious question. *** A knock sounded at the door. “Do you like her?” His forehead wrinkled. Family. “I forgot to use the bathroom first. My eyes stung once more. .

it blinked out. I’ll Excalibur you.” “No. I reached back to pull over the neck flap.” My eyes flashed. They were my family. I stared after them. “I believe you. “As I recall. you’re not. “I’m going to skin him alive.” I slapped his hand away. It doesn’t have the same meaning. “Matt. “Where are you?” A few minutes later. You’re barely more than a baby.” I sighed. I handled it. if you hurt her. He pulled his hand . “You’re seventeen.” With a scowl.Blake turned to leave. “No—” In a flash.” “I’m from a different century. Blue light flared from his fingertips. “You don’t have to. He pushed aside my hair and hissed at the sight of the bruises. Then. The anger behind the statement shocked me.” He left. “Now that you’ve seen it.” he retorted. Professor. can you heal me?” “Is that why you called me? To clean up his mess?” Matt said. I couldn’t risk them for Vane. you’re eighteen. Matt came in through the open door. “Just so you know.” I called. Matt put a hand up to my neck. I pushed myself up on the bed and pulled the wetsuit up to put my arms through. I was coming to the slow realization I might be doing just that by not telling Matt what Excalibur had shown me. I’m a big girl. “Need help?” he said. “You’re letting him get to you. he stood at the edge of the bed. Matt.” Blake grimaced.

“Have you seen Merlin? There’s a storm brewing in the east.” I touched the bruises. Ryan. you do have the best one.” I snapped. which.” “No?” “I want you to feel this for awhile. “No. Colin saw me eyeing the weapons. “Any you would like?” I held up Excalibur. I flounced out of bed. They sat right along the amulet.” “I don’t need to be taught a lesson. as well as Clarence and the other guardian wizards picked through an array of weapons that were laid out on a table. you still need one. Matt.” Did I have a sign over my head that read “Push me around. He and several other gargoyles. I was sure. aggravating them. It hurts. stepping on Matt’s foot as I did. “If you’d been a good one. The boat won’t be able to wait for us after we go under.” “Apparently. He destroys everything he touches.” *** Halfway up the stairs to the top deck. To my satisfaction. “Come on. Matt.” He shook his head. “I might not need a teacher.back. Matt. This is what he is. I like it?” Frustrated. The tightness of the wetsuit pressed the amulet into my skin. “Ach. he winced. He gestured at them. “No. But we’ve figured out a .” He continued. You’re not my teacher anymore. Colin stopped me while I muttered about boys being jerks and beckoned me into the covered lower deck. was only used to seeing fine china.

I moved further into the living room.” Colin said. “You had no idea how to use it in a storm. sat on my skin with painful awareness.” He rose. a fine string.” The quiet words. It will allow the boat to communicate with us.solution for them to tell us when they’re back—” “I figured out a solution. It’s only one-way though…” As Colin continued to explain the technicalities to Grey. The bruises.” “Must be nice. Vane’s eyes narrowed.” I muttered. I stared out at the endless sea. Too many emotions had left me jittery. but the thick rubber obscured anything that may have been lying there. “Let me see. I couldn’t be still.” “You don’t need to. unconsciously I touched my neck. He sat up and stretched his arms. “It’s a good thing I can heal away any hurt.” Vane lounged on a white leather sofa. fell and splintered on the razor . “We brought the equipment. “Vane’s rigged the buoy it uses to remain operating during the storm. His gaze followed mine. He raised a brow. “Are you?” I turned to look at him. his step coiled and ready to spring. Dark clouds hovered just beyond the horizon and I thought I saw a small funnel. “Are you sober?” “Unfortunately. “Use what in a storm?” Grey came up behind me.” Vane remarked. My eyes went to the spot between his legs. His wetsuit clung to his chest. Noticing my gesture. although hidden under the wetsuit. “Ready?” Vane asked. He took a step closer.” Colin answered. “A deep sea paging system.

“I should get some gear. he went for the safer answer. “In the whole Mediterranean. maximum depths have been measured here. “What is so funny?” “Diving gear.” Small harsh laughter burst from Vane. do you really think where we’re going any diving equipment will work?” I put my hands on my hips. I would wager they are more like five miles down. When he spoke. It’s not a coincidence. “You do realize you’re traveling with wizards? Besides. “How far down do you think this is? There have been divers who have dived around a mile or more. We had sailed from the Aegean and into the blue green waters . “Let me see. “Why don’t you explain it to me?” He looked at me. He would want to heal it. He repeated fiercely.” Even without knowing what lay under my wetsuit he knew he’d hurt me. though. “Diving gear because we’re going underwater.sharp edge our relationship stood on. I ground out. I sighed and moved a step away.” “Gear?” I said slowly. His fingers tightened until I saw his knuckles become white.” We weren’t talking just about diving. I couldn’t let him. Triton’s island has gone undetected because they know how to keep it hidden. The maximum depth of the Calypso Deep is somewhere around three miles—” “You are being naïve. He knew it.” “No. I knew it. I stared out beyond the protection of the glass doors onto the endless reach of the open sea.” he said.” Five miles down in the cold dark. Not yet. Vane halted.

it could be entirely without mercy. I could find life. we’ll have to continue this later.” The honest answer surprised me.” Vane grabbed my arm.” “I thought we had half an hour. Easy for the waves to overwhelm.” Matt said. “Have I pushed you away then?” I stopped.” The boat stopped. his fingers an unapologetic manacle on my arm. absolutely breathtaking. I looked up to meet his hazel eyes. Matt stood at the door. They could make me fly so high. One name after another marked invisible boundaries in the water. “Fascinating as it is. . “I guess not. A force of nature.” Colin replied. exhilarating. without remorse. “I don’t need saving.” I scowled at him. Colin stood up. His hand still outstretched. “You know I’m right. You’re right. His head knocked against a small ledge behind the sofa with force. “Did you mean to?” He whispered.of the Ionian Sea. Inside the water. Did I dare meet another wave? I opened my mouth to reply. to crush. “Stay away from her. In them. “No. We’re here. there would be no lines. my surfboard and I had been shredded. but those of us on the surface. But it was easy to get caught in the barrel. Vane went flying across the cabin. In them. In a flash of blue light. Vane closed the distance between us. he said. I saw the reflection of the sea. boundaries that meant nothing to anyone. Well. Matt. They were thrilling. I didn’t get the chance. A thin line of red formed on his temple.” I took a step to move past him. I was the surfer standing upon its waves. “Fine.

Eight wizards paired up with seven gargoyles and one regular—me. He’d . “Your turn. The other wizards followed one after the other. I touched my skin. “Breathe deeply. “I’ve never used a mermaid charm before. Instead. I put my hands to my neck as the bruises under my wetsuit burned deep into the dermis of my skin blistering through the layers. forming on one side of his neck. And finally. Just above the chain of the amulet sat three slits on one side and three on another. I started coughing as soon as Matt slipped the ring on my finger. It had become a noose. You’ll need to get used to the gills. deep slits. Clarence handed us rings.” He gave me a sheepish look. I looked at Matt. I watched Vane. I glared at him and said hoarsely. choking.” Matt slipped a ring on. He started choking as I’d done. I realized with a start I’d begun to think of Grey as a gargoyle.” I wiggled my toes.” “No kidding.It took half an hour to get ready for the dive. Grey stood beside me. my chest expanded after I was able to take in a breath. I fell to my knees. Around me. My neck still burned. I saw three gills. My feet had grown to almost twice their size and flared out just like fins. His skin had taken on a faint shade of blue. His and Vane’s relationship was strained enough. I couldn’t tell him that though.” Gasping. “Ryan. I suspected whatever spell he’d given me made the injuries on my neck worse. I took off the neck flap of the wetsuit. Grey and the gargoyles tore open their wetsuits and threw off their neckpieces. spelled with magic to allow us to breathe underwater. “You could have warned me.” Matt pulled me back up.

“Mayhap. his reacted eerily. He didn’t make a sound. Blake’s ears were completely normal. Tall with cute. They pointed in a tip. I demanded. “Because you’re a gargoyle?” Grey said. “What happened to your ears?” Grey said to me. “It must happen only to females. His skin had taken on a slightly darker shade of blue.” Gia blushed. “Isn’t that a green Romulan?” “Who cares?” I screeched. Gia rushed over to me. Sire. His body didn’t jolt under the strain as ours did. He said. cleared her throat. Her cheeks turned an odd purple. I’d seen Grey eyeing her more than once. brown hair. They felt normal until I reached the top. “Why don’t you have it?” Matt walked up and I almost drooled. “That is so… brilliant. “I’m a blue Vulcan!” Blake came over.” she said shyly and watched him with an .” I rushed to a nearby window and checked out my reflection. “I have them too. He put the ring on and it struck me that his transformation was the quickest. “Argh.” “I don’t have it. It perfectly complimented the auburn in his hair and deepened the color of his irises to seem almost purple. the lone female gargoyle among us. a mix of red and blue. touching my pointy ears. She crowded next to me to look at herself.already healed the gash on his forehead caused by Matt.” Blake stared at her.” McKenna. as if it had been waiting for the change. Gills formed and his feet flared out. “Huh?” Immediately my hand went up my lobes.

I turned on Matt. DuLac. “What aren’t you telling me?” Matt sighed.” “What about when we meet the mermaids?” I said. Dorothy. that could be it. “He’s trying to goad you. Matt.” I repeated. he deliberately leaned closer. I crossed to the railing.expression that bordered on worship. maybe I did need a psychiatrist. Matt shrunk Excalibur again and placed it into a hidden pocket in the wetsuit.” Vane’s eyes glittered with a reflection of the blue water. Matt appeared at my other side. It served to only deepen the dangerous edge to his eyes. I bit my tongue to keep from licking him. “Yes.” I jerked away from him. “Where are we going?” “Straight down. “What’s the matter. We all had small pouches with some emergency provisions. “Let’s get in the water. Although. Grey’s chest and.” Vane came up beside me. Vane held the trident. I’ll have to spell your rings.” We all sheathed our knives.” “I don’t need protection.” Matt said quickly. by the way my body reacted to Vane. He arched a brow. “Sweet. Like his brother. His tongue flicked out and teased a lobe. his ego puffed. My fingers itched to stroke his changed skin to see if it felt any different. afraid to get in the . “Are we going to be able to understand them?” “Once I understand what they’re speaking. “No pointed ears for you. Merlin?” Vane chuckled. no doubt. Vane. Ignore him. his skin had also turned a darker shade of blue than the rest of us. Matt had a backpack with the deep sea paging equipment and the snake. As if he could sense the throb of want coursing through me. “Get away from her.

I let him pull me to a long rock formation. He pushed us further without taking any breaks. Through a mesh of seaweed. Grey. We were in the middle of a race when Vane grabbed my hand. I’d been swimming before and never been able to see anything. After a moment’s hesitation. It seemed to go down forever. Blake. The freedom of weightlessness seemed to lighten everyone’s mood. I fluttered and floated around in the sea. I don’t know what I was looking for. They all slid off my shoulders and away into the depths of the deep. We swam deeper and deeper down. but I didn’t find it. twisting and turning through the water. We swam deeper. along its ridge.water?” The small waves of the water invited us in. doing flips in the water. but it felt more like play than work. As soon as I hit the water. Gia. Masses of seaweed and other plant-life covered the hard shelf. he pointed to a barely discernable break in the stone. and I played. I saw nothing but black rock. In the endless possibility the water presented. Cool water cleansed away any fearful thoughts and lingering worry. I touched my new gills. In a . Matt had to reel us in several times when we tried to wander away to look at the rainbow-colored different sea creatures. Vane pointed me to a particular spot. Blake and I did several races. I peered around the curtain of seaweed. Grey. a mountain rising out from the sea floor. And it was. Gia. nothing else mattered. This was going to be fun. Grey flicked bubbles at me. but the spell had put some kind of protection over my eyes and I could see everything. The only other one who seemed to be enjoying it as much as we were was Vane. it was easy to forget the tension between us.

” Matt signaled us to go through the curtain. then. “I have to go.” I told Matt. everyone came through the curtain. Blake took Gia’s hand. He turned and frowned when he saw us not moving. one-by-one. The place reeked of evil. seaweed-covered columns supported a hulking expanse of rock that loomed above them. I stopped. stood a pair of giant pillars.valley. I moved to allow them a closer look. “The pillars of Hercules. Everyone looked at Matt. They all halted. We all felt the danger.” Matt told me . “Let’s find out. The very substance of the water seemed to change. and Grey caught up to us first. Matt. after him. Excalibur screamed in warning. I. Too much depends on it. Matt peered through the curtain. “Do you feel this?” The water became darker. all changed as soon as they hit the dark water. Vane went first. forming a band of protection. Matt came up behind them. Its slimly film covered my skin. We went. Vane kept swimming. *** One-by-one. except for Grey. “But how can two pillars hold up an entire city? This can’t be Aegae. through the fissure. then returned to swimming toward the island. Gia.” he thought to me. From its hiding place. A sensation infiltrated my newly formed gills and seeped through with something more than merely menace. Blake. The gargoyles. “Matt?” I cried. amid a mountain of rock. The rest of the group stopped swimming also. He gestured for us to advance. As soon as I crossed to the other side. Two long. The gargoyles closed around Grey. The wizards did the same around me.

At the top.” Vane said. I saw they were smooth and definitely not part of a natural rock formation. I followed. I turned. An entrance. Grey gestured back “And you?” I shook my head. We swam straight up to the rock the pillars supported. “Look behind you. I started to swim after Matt and Vane. Up close. Vane swam up to the edge of the water and pulled himself . Blake gestured. Matt went next. It was a short swim before we surfaced. except that these pillars had been made for giants. I touched Excalibur and I knew I couldn’t leave Vane and Matt. He shook his.” He swam after Vane. “You should go back. Take the others. I gestured to Grey and Colin to go back through the curtain. He signaled for us to go up. The cave had one opening—a set of crimson gates with a gold carving of a bull.” Matt said. “This is what we saw. for a brief moment I almost obeyed. Vane swam up to the two pillars and went between them. “We stick together. we found a framed hexagonal opening.grimly.” With a nod. It didn’t take long to reach the pillars. I looked at Blake and Gia next. The others came in behind me. I eyed the curtain. The construction looked very similar to the pillars at the Parthenon. He went through without hesitation. The others followed right behind. We emerged and found ourselves in a darkened cave. The urge to flee ran through me so strongly.

Blake. a lone spark in the abyss of the cave.” Grey. I followed him without a second thought. Nausea welled up inside my stomach. and the others reached the ledge and started getting out. “This stone isn’t the same as the pillars. skulls of the long departed. I wondered if they wanted to jump back in. Vane lit a fireball. exposed only horror.” Gia muttered.out. “The bones lead back to the door. Gia.” “Gross. “Don’t you ever listen?” Matt said in exasperation. and Gia said simultaneously. I put a hand to my mouth at what I saw. Grey.” “It gets better. “Stay in the water. Dead crying faces. . But I feel as if I’ve seen it before. He leaned down and helped me out. I said. like I did. “These people were eaten. Vane knelt down and picked up another one. Blake.” Vane floated the fireball in the air. Ridges and sharp scrapings marred the bone. The bit of light. It’s different. “I’ve seen this.” he said. “These aren’t battle wounds. She and the others remained by the ledge. Matt knelt on the floor and picked up a long femur.” Matt walked to the door and touched its frame. Ahead of us. I hissed when I slipped and hit my chin on a sharp point. had been somehow glued onto a triangular slab of stone that made up the top of the doorframe. A mass of jagged rocks made up the ledge.” Matt commanded and swam to the ledge. A mass of casually tossed human bones littered the ground.

” Matt said.” He drew out the compacted trident and lengthened it. “What?” Blake said. Vivane.” Matt said as he walked into the shadows at the side of the door and disappeared. “From limbo. “Everyone else. He stared at the bull. There was nothing.” Blake said. “If the bull is the lock. “Didn’t the Minotaur eat people?” “You are a tasty morsel. “Matt!” I ran after him.” Vane said. “Helpful. “I think this bull may be a lock. He lit another fireball. Nothing stood behind the door. Matt walked around it and came out from the other side. get your sword. “Or skulls. “I’m fine. “Why is the door here if it doesn’t lead anywhere?” Grey said. “Because we haven’t opened it yet.” Grey said.” I retorted. It illuminated the space behind the door. “A trilithon.before coming up beside me. we surely have the key. I may as well .” Vane went to stand in front of the door.” “A trilithon doesn’t have a triangle on top. “Two stones on the sides and one across the top. “They are right.” Gia pointed out.” Vane said. It was empty.” “The Minotaur also had a bull’s face.” I hissed at him. “He is right though.” “Triton’s been modifying the original design. Matt nodded.” Matt said. I pulled out Excalibur.

I walked to him. He and Matt had managed to fare a bit better than I.do this at once.” Blake. It knocked me off my feet.” he muttered to Vane. peeled back the wetsuit a bit on my arm.” I slammed the wound against the bull’s head. “I could make you. There’s only one key.” I challenged. The fireballs winked out. accompanied with white light that shone from beyond the door. “He’s right. the gargoyles and the wizards all pulled out knives. “Most likely?” I crossed my arms and stood where I was. Grey. “You don’t need those. “I would have done it better. Gia. The knives instantly became swords. and on his other side. everything seemed to happen at once. “Try to practice some self-control. .” he said and took a step toward me.” Vane said. Vane raised a brow. “Try it. The bull’s head twisted. Then.” Vane crooked a finger at me and motioned for me to come. I took Excalibur. “If you insist. Light formed around the door. I couldn’t move either. A full-bodied wail exploded into the cavern. facing Vane. Vane’s hand still held mine. I heard the faint aria of music. Matt waved his hand. Matt quickly crossed the door and slapped a hand on Vane’s chest to stop him. Most likely the same key that opened the trident will open this. Matt looked at me. only to be frozen in place. I fell to the floor and landed on my side. I hissed when Excalibur greedily cut into my skin more than I’d intended.” Making a face. I saw Matt. and sliced myself. They had been pushed only to their knees. Vane yanked me back.

Wizards. A bulky barbarian of a man with arresting green eyes marched up to Matt and Vane. but also their bodies. He wore a gold chain with a small emerald. red hair fanned out. red cloaks hung on their backs. the armor looked unlike anything I’d ever seen. On their heads sat golden helmets that extended to their cheeks. He kept his shield in front of him. “This one can barely contain it. A faint heat from Vane’s hand on mine flared briefly. I tried to speak. They wore what appeared to be Ancient Greek uniforms—armor-breasted tops with red leather skirt-bottoms and armored leg plates. Yet. but couldn’t. I watched men stream out of the gate with gold shields. The barbarian swung the sword.” “Look at their blue skin. but couldn’t. Every single one had the physique of a body builder. giving them a futuristic look instead of a medieval one. I tried to move. . can you feel them? They have much power. “They have gills. I could only breathe. Matt let out a breath. An older soldier came up beside the barbarian.” The barbarian raised his sword to strike. No! My mind screamed. It glowed an odd shade of platinum and gold. We should behead him now. Not only were their uniforms the same.” the barbarian spat.” He touched Matt’s head.Through a haze. Long. Their skin was tinged with a hint of green. The top sported a ridge from which a short line of thick. I could understand them perfectly. “He’s breaking through the paralyzing spell. I could only watch. The emerald on his chain glowed. “Why are these two not asleep?” To my surprise. Yet.

MERMAIDS CHAPTER 13 MERMAIDS .CHAPTER 13 .

“Do you see this?” The older man leaned down and picked up the trident.” “Leonidas. Look at her ears. “Really? This could be fun. He slammed the side of the sword into Matt’s head.” “No one will claim her. grinned. I noticed gill slits on both sides of his neck.” another soldier called from somewhere behind me. “You cannot claim her. “Wait. “They must all go to the King. My head flopped forward and my hair curtained my face. “This one is a son of Poseidon.” The barbarian. “Wait!” The barbarian halted the sword mid-swing. Smells tasty. He hauled me up.” he said. Another soldier.” the barbarian said unhappily. He lowered his sword. “That should keep him in check. peered down at me. “Her blood. “This one is mine. presumably to put me over his shoulder. Six are gargoyles.” A foot shoved me and I fell over on my back. yet muscled teenager with even yellower teeth. Matt fell to the floor. “I count thirteen here. Leonidas. A mermaid. The pale green of his skin deepened to hunter green around the gills.” the older soldier said. But I was heavier than he realized and he only managed to get me up halfway. I would have screamed if I could. showing yellow-stained teeth.” . I exhaled.” He grabbed my hand and dug his fingers into my cut. He sniffed the air and then leaned down to sniff me.The older soldier turned to Vane and hissed.” “Fine.” Leonidas marched up. an angular. Even his eyes were slightly green.

He stabbed the boy in the heart.” The older soldier frowned. We stepped into a blue-grey world of water. The blade ran red with blood. I hit the ground. We were no longer under the water. I had a belt around my waist and a chain linking me to Gia. She groaned in protest. oddly enough. Colin and the gargoyles had been chained into one bunch. I noticed. Excalibur slipped from my other hand and fell unerringly into the boy’s foot.The teenager tightened his hold on me. Shackles held my feet together. I sat up and shook her. Grey.” Leonidas slid the sword out of the boy. “He showed disrespect. It was the last thing I saw before I closed my eyes. The pallor of their skin still held a hint of blue. I looked around us.” “That much I can see. “He was a skilled thief. hauled me up with one hand.” Leonidas grabbed Excalibur and hooked the sword in his belt. *** I woke up later on the floor of the biggest room I’d ever seen. We swam up and up and up. Leonidas laughed and lifted his sword. and put me over his shoulder. My gills started breathing for me. “How did this one get invited into the service?” “He managed to make it through training. Fed himself well. She was still passed out. The boy fell backwards. Gold handcuffs immobilized my hands. One side of my face slammed against a rock. He leaned down. Above us. They still had gills though. a beacon of white light called. The green-skinned barbarian carried me tightly. The boy screamed and dropped me. “Leonidas. He crossed to the red door. that his ears were pointed also.” mumbled the older soldier. I looked .

An ocean surrounded the city. outlined by the roots of trees that hugged the edges. A short stack of steps led up to an empty throne. I glanced behind me and gaped. however. Below me. We had been placed on one side of the room. I didn’t see Matt or Vane. marble wall. I turned around. the curtains had been drawn back on the left wall behind us. I craned my neck to look out. Each one had an open terrace. Beside the gargoyles. Still blue too. While a bright red curtain enclosed the right side. The hall was a rectangle with a red carpet perimeter that ran before a dais at the front of the room. creating a gorgeous waterfall that ended in a square fountain on the next level of the palace. No wall sheltered us. Instead. Blake and the other wizards. The city cascaded down from the hill and the pyramid-style palace in which I now sat. We were on an island. Pillars on either side of us framed the view of the entire city. we had been placed near the edge of a completely open terrace. but they’d been allowed to overrun with cultivated vines that curled and climbed upwards. We were on a hill. Behind it a replica of the red doors and the bull had been painted in thick oils on a long. Their gills were gone and their skin had gone back to normal.down at my arms. Blake and the other wizards had been grouped. I sat on the third floor of a building that had to be at least seven stories high and the tallest building as far as I could see. Bright flowers in deep reds and yellows were sprinkled . Each wizard wore a small. a gush of water spewed from a wide stone pipe and trickled over the side. Grecian stone pillars held up each level. Each level was wider than the one above it. yellow diamond amulet that hung from a gold chain. no longer had their rings.

It took them a minute to realize they were in shackles. My eyes fixed on one in the center. The sight that arrested me. thick.” I looked up at the sky filled with the red expanse of a sunset. almost every building had at least two. At the top. A moat surrounded the palace and branching off from it. and myriad hanging gardens. twenty-foot poles. “How? We don’t even know where we are. The head looked out at the city. Some of the gargoyles wore their human faces. “I can’t do any magic. In that small spot on the fine green lawn. Most of the scalp looked as if it had been picked away by scavenging birds.throughout. How had we gotten out of the water to here? Where was this island and where was our boat? The bleating blare of a conch stalled any further speculation. as well as the other wizards all woke up. They lined every bit of available wall. no grass grew. “We’ve got to get out of here. They were spiked on twelve. In a spot that everyone from the city below could see. Then. however. the other gargoyles.” Blake hissed. so I only saw its back. They framed numerous waterfalls. about a hundred or so people appeared who were dressed in . Some wore their beast. Blake. stood just beyond the palace on the hill. Grey. twelve severed human heads had been displayed like a gruesome banner. pipes circulated water down the hill into artificial canals that ran throughout the city. Dried blood ran down the pole to the ground below.” Gia whispered. little hair remained. “These stones…” He broke off when a stream of longhaired warriors entered the room from the back.

Green-skinned men with ponytails wore what looked like tunics under their togas. these soldiers wore helmets with black plumes instead of red. So did some of the men. In the middle of them walked an older man with long. Its tail formed the band while its head pointed up toward the shoulder. On each arm. the armband was fashioned like a snake. Some wore red. It draped over one shoulder while the skirt portion extended to their knees. Heavy gold brooches and clips kept the clothing in place. but I didn’t have a good feeling. Some women had pointed ears like Gia and me. On the left. Gold bangles and headbands were used exclusively for decoration. He wore a finer tunic and toga. The conch sounded again. and purple dresses that crisscrossed over their cleavage and left their backs mostly bare. On the right armband. he wore a crown that was a simple gold band with a large emerald embedded into a curve at its center.a rainbow of colors. I eyed the open terrace behind me. The way the ledge extended out to a point suggested sacrifice. Did it mean the Fisher King? Or Poseidon? I didn’t know. Hard . more soldiers entered. he also wore gold armbands. At the front of the room. adorned with ornate gold. However. A fish and a snake on the King. from the right side. a mermaid held a trident. We had come to the right place. The King walked over to the throne and sat down. blue. I tugged at my shackles. also from one bolt of cotton. The crown’s ends curled up in the shape of a fish. I didn’t want to become one. but with a red sash tied around the waist. On his head. The women wore flowing gowns. The tunic was a thin shirt and the toga had been fashioned from a single bolt of cotton that shaped to fit their form. dark hair highlighted with streaks of silver.

lines marred an otherwise handsome face. Things had not gone well on the last one. Grey jumped up. The emerald on his crown began to glow. Another knocked me to the floor. Not another red moon. and the ring Matt had given me heated. Father. This time. An image of a rooftop and an army of gargoyles flashed through my mind. One finger pointed at me. The King squinted at the gargoyles. bringing with him two bound prisoners—Vane . The court of people parted for their prince. “I am glad you are pleased. The King turned away from us and faced the court. “I’m hardly going to tell you. Warmth spread over my fingers. “Who are you?” I stood up too. I understood him.” Blood moon? As in red moon? I groaned internally.” Leonidas bowed his head. Leonidas came to the center of the room. His gaze fixed on us. But there is more—” He waved a hand and the older soldier from the cave came forward. “How did you find the gate?” the King demanded from us. The green of his eyes also seemed to glow. “I have brought you potentials for the blood moon. “Where is my son? Why has he called us here?” “Here.” Leonidas strode up the red carpet from the back of the room.” Grey said. “Release us. Piercing green eyes shone from a paler green-skinned face. A soldier came out of his position against the wall and cuffed him across the head with a lance. He waved a hand.” The King said something that sounded like Greek. “A champion among the beasts? I suppose it will make for better sport. but I couldn’t understand him.

he stood with shackles on his hands and feet. Every piece of his body had been chained. His skin had returned to normal. I almost collapsed with relief.” “Why have you not beheaded him?” Lelex barked.” The older soldier pointed at Matt. Vane wore a similar diamond and chain. he shoved Matt down on the steps. Vane’s eyes met mine and my stomach fluttered. His face was muzzled with an iron mask that had only half-slits to see through and small openings on the nose and mouth.” Leonidas grabbed Matt and pushed him toward the King. “He cannot speak.” King Lelex said. His gills were gone. the mermaids had subdued all the wizards’ magic. Somehow. “He doesn’t understand you. The King focused on Matt. however. “Bring him to me. looking bored. “Take off his mask. Leonidas unsheathed his sword. My hands curled at the sight of him. We’ve had to subdue him. A handful of soldiers emerged from their positions against the walls. Like me. was trussed up like a serial killer. The largest yellow diamond I’d ever seen was attached to a gold chain and hung around his neck. Matt. The older servant used a small key to unlock the mask. I wish to see him. Lelex sighed.” the older soldier said.” Vane said.and Matt.” King Lelex waved the older soldier to bring Matt forward. “What is the meaning of this?” “King Lelex. “This one is a powerful magician. When they reached the dais. They made a semi-circle just behind Matt. A mass of bruises covered his face. . “He does not need to. Matt blinked at the sudden burst of light.

” “Father. “He is stubborn.” Vane struggled against his chains.” The soldiers dragged Matt away. I will try again later. He is their most powerful wizard. “I can start killing off your people one-by-one. “His name is Merlin.” The King’s eyes gleamed. The King slumped back in his seat.” Lelex’s eyes widened.” Leonidas took the trident from the older soldier’s hands. The King deigned to glance at us against the wall. “They are not my people.” Lelex gave his son an unamused look. “No!” I stood up. “We found this on him. The King’s gaze turned on Vane. “I thought this was only a legend.” The King crooked a finger to beckon two soldiers. I could not get more. Matt passed out.” He reached out and touched Matt’s head. “Take him to the holding rooms. wizard?” “Why should I tell you?” Vane said. “We found this on him.” Leonidas turned the trident so it lay horizontally on his hand and presented it on bended knee to his . “Let him go.” Matt opened his mouth in a silent scream.” Vane said coldly. his defenses are strong. “Why are you here. I have a feeling this one can tell us much. Lelex started sweating. The emerald on the King’s crown glowed.” “Ah. “You do not like that. Leonidas took Medusa’s snake from his cloak and held it out to the King. pulling Gia with me. The crown glowed even more.“Kneel before the King. On his throne. They are Merlin’s. Matt’s body shuddered under the weight of Lelex’s probing.

“Is this your true purpose? To live forever? There is no such thing. My ancestor gave him more of a chance than I would have. Lelex laughed and shook his head.” “Bran the Blessed? No. “You defeated him. He held his hand out in Vane’s direction. If there were. After he lost his kingdom.” Vane frowned. he came to my ancestor. “How is this possible? He is a wizard…” He peered at Vane.” Vane said. The emerald on his crown glowed again. Why would we help a creature like him? We are Triton’s descendants. Bran the Blessed was not the Fisher King. He only had to prove himself. He turned back to Vane. you are certainly not he. “Yet. I cannot believe it. His kingdom meant nothing to us. the Fisher King is marked on you. but I know our history well. He was weak. “I was frozen in a cave.” . Wounded. It has found us again. He came to beg for help. He came to us also. I woke only recently.” “A spell.” Lelex said with a sneer. even though Lelex hadn’t touched him. Lelex took the trident.father. “It is real. Sons of Poseidon. “No. “Yes. Bran would not have been defeated so easily.” Lelex stood up and walked closer to Vane.” The King looked out over his court.” “And the cup?” Vane asked. He did not even survive one challenge. Vane shuddered. Defeated. “I am not Bran of Pellam. he was no longer the Blessed.” Vane blinked.” Lelex took another step closer to Vane. He turned it over several times in his hand. The people cheered. “And yet. It happened over a thousand years ago.” “But how? You cannot be so old.

“It is our thirteenth night. “The mark of the Fisher King is a sign from Poseidon.” Grey and the gargoyles tried to push themselves in front of us. nearly knocking me down with the force of the blow. “Release us or I will break his neck. Our interlinked chains caused Gia to go down with me. “Anything else you would like to say to me?” No one noticed Vane taking a step closer to Lelex. He swept his legs under mine to knock me to my knees. Leonidas scowled. He moved so fast. Now. Time grows short for us all. A swarm of soldiers converged to restrain them. Without warning. “Interesting. Beside me. realizing that I was insulting him. The King croaked out. . Vane commanded. “What a Prince Charming you are.Lelex turned his head toward us. He is pleased with our offerings. making me tear up. The maidens will make a most auspicious sacrifice. It is why these blood moon sacrifices must be our greatest. and before anyone could react.” The people in the court murmured in agreement. He looked past us to the fading light in the sky. “It makes sense. Gia giggled.” Leonidas marched up to me and grabbed me by the hair. we will be able to give him a true prize. he used his chains to put Lelex into a chokehold. Several faces looked out at the sky with fear. with the addition of these outsiders to the blood moon games. He backhanded me. Leonidas’s hand tightened on his sword. I looked up at the hulking barbarian.” Near me. He pulled me up by the hair again.” Leonidas frowned in confusion. You do care about them. he lunged at the King. Lelex turned back to Vane. The day of reckoning is near.

But your friends will not die so well. We will pit their champion against ours.” Lelex made choking sounds. Leonidas didn’t pull his swing. The barbarian looked at his father. “The maiden seems to matter a great deal.” The older soldier pointed a finger straight at me. He sent his sword crashing down. Lelex managed a nod. He shoved my hair to one side to expose my neck. Poseidon has sent us the outsiders for a greater purpose. “Let her go and I will release him. Leonidas let go of my hair. Soldiers grabbed Vane and pulled him away. but that would be too easy. but a champion needs a worthy opponent. “Enough!” Vane gripped the King. I do not mind dying honorably. I am Aegae. Vane released the King.” A sly smile lit his face. Leonidas moved swiftly to grab my hair again. “My son is right.” . “I should run you through with my sword. “He watches that one very closely. However. His gaze wandered over at me. Father—” Lelex raised a brow. Lelex rubbed his throat. The maidens will make a good sacrifice. Aegae do not surrender. Leonidas walked up to Vane and punched him in the gut. “You have won every game. Vane doubled over. You are Aegae’s true champion.” He looked at Grey and the gargoyles.” Leonidas’s face turned red. “But. “No!” Vane cried. I knocked into Gia and we both fell over to the floor.” Leonidas’s nostrils flared.I am a descendant of Triton. I rolled out of the way at the last second. With a pained grunt.

“The reason you seek the cup. more people sat in seats surrounding the pit.” “Enough.” The King climbed back up to his throne. To live. We are hidden. It reminded me of the private boxes at a stadium. presumably servants. Then we pray to Poseidon that he will protect us from the upcoming wrath.” Vane frowned. are we?” The King grinned. Sometimes we see your airships pass over us. I spoke without thinking. As you said. “They are outsiders. but they’ve never seen us. We are on the precipice of the last stage of the cycle. Two men in trousers. You are the poor animals.Leonidas scowled. Soldiers pushed Vane toward the far wall away from us. Look at their skin.” The King pointed behind me to the spike with the head. “We’re not going to slaughter some poor animals. I have decided. I seek to ensure that the Aegae survive. but not immune. The conch blew again. To survive. The end is at hand. “Not at all. but no shirts. A champion and a sacrifice will be chosen. On one side of the pit. “What wrath?” Lelex turned sharp green eyes on him. On lower floors beneath us. The floor opened to a deep pit. . Blue. We stayed in place. “We do this each day until the night of the blood moon. Everyone in the court hurried to the sides of the room. None of them can be a champion. A soldier came out from behind him and blew the signal on a conch. If the champion loses or dies. Our island is hidden from your world with only a few gateways to connect us. of course. The slabs of marble on the floor shifted and retracted. a set of stairs led somewhere underground. the sacrifice will be Poseidon’s gift. Leonidas. this is an auspicious night. rolled up the red carpet.

He pointed a finger at me.” The King’s eyes fixed on the gargoyles “Now. “I do not know.” .Your world will shake and so will ours.” “What is going to happen?” Vane said. Vane beat me to it. “She will be our champion. The gods have not revealed it to us. We must begin the game. night nears. Whom do you choose?” I opened my mouth to volunteer as sacrifice. We just know the storm comes. Both will be torn apart. You must appoint one champion and one sacrifice.

CHAPTER 14 .CHAMPION CHAPTER 14 CHAMPION .

The Aegae in the throne room turned to look at me. The King followed and so did the rest of the court. A girl who probably couldn’t even lift a sword.” he barked at the older soldier who’d come into the hall with Leonidas. yet still a regular. Apparently Vane knew me too well and was trying to save me from myself. much less fight with one. “We still don’t understand their tongue. The magic is too strong.” I let out a breath. I was no Hercules. and delicate.I gaped at him. Leonidas laughed first. he looked at me closely. For the first time. By the signature.” Lelex’s eyes fixed on me.” Theras continued. “I will be the sacrifice—” Grey walked a few steps forward. “You choose a regular as champion?” Lelex said. I do not sense any magic on her otherwise. Merlin. Your Highness.” Leonidas echoed eagerly. I know what they saw—short.” “She is a regular. “What is going on?” Blake said. I stood up. “The maiden seeks to be the sacrifice. slender. “Theras. “Why does the maiden still wear a charm?” Theras stepped forward. we think the magic is tied to the wizard. His eyes focused on my amulet. They hadn’t looked very closely at Excalibur.” Lelex’s eyes narrowed. “We could not take it off her. .” Grey explained to him and the wizards who watched the laughing court in confusion. “We shall see how strong when he breaks. “An oddly strong one. “No. sire. I will be the sacrifice.

” “You asked.” McKenna stepped forward.” Leonidas commanded. sending a stream of green magic at her. McKenna went flying backwards to the floor. The pointy-eared prince scowled at us with suspicion.” The King nodded. “By rights. “We chose. I may as well have been pinned with a scarlet “V” to my chest. “She is no maiden. I offer myself.“Interesting. The girl gargoyle wore her human face. “Check her ears.” the King declared. She snarled and morphed into her gargoyle face. The meaning hit me then. “If you require a girl. Lelex waved a hand in McKenna’s direction. glaring at Blake.” Vane said quickly. No point showed. Leonidas whined. “Prince Leonidas will be the Aegae champion.” McKenna’s cheeks flushed. A young mermaid with pointy ears in handcuffs was thrust forward. A soldier stepped forward and checked.” “No!” Grey protested. He shook his head. . I choose the first set of champions and I have done so. Lelex sighed. The soldier leaned down and checked her ears again. The maiden is the champion. My own cheeks turned red. Wasn’t it embarrassing enough to actually be a virgin? Stupid ears.” “Indeed. “A maiden should be sacrificed. “We’re surrounded by a bunch of ho’s. “Even him!” I nudged her to look at Leonidas’s ears. I looked at Gia. She giggled. His sacrifice—” The soldiers parted.” she muttered. Her eyes lit with the same realization.

She bit her lip.” The older soldier sighed. The King turned back to the court.” Leonidas snarled at me.” the King said. How did he expect me to be a champion without Excalibur? I frowned at him. . “Trust me. with question in my eyes. it shall be.” “You seek to delay us. gargoyle. “The champions will fight until one concedes. He continued.” I said quickly. He mouthed. but nodded in agreement. I found myself reaching for the older soldier’s sword. in fact.” Murmurs and a few cheers erupted from the surrounding court at the pronouncement. “This one is well made. it is mine. I didn’t take it.” Lelex nodded regally.” “Swords. “We will take the gargoyle girl as sacrifice. The mermaid lowered her head. the tribute. You will restore your family’s honor.“Ah. Leonidas gave me a surprised look.” Vane said from across the room. Leonidas picked up his sword and ran a finger along its blade. “Swords. He looked at McKenna. Excellently. The maiden will be champion.” The older soldier came up to me and held out his sword. Lelex waved at them and they quieted. You must both agree on the same weapon.” I repeated. “Prepare yourself for death. “She can fight with any sword.” McKenna’s gaze traveled to the sword I held. She will be auspicious enough. get her one. “I want mine. “Theras.” “I want mine.

Objects like a half-wall. He played. We went back and forth without either one of us giving much ground. Then we started using the things in the pit. the mermaids seemed to be using charms. *** That was how I found myself in the pit. I don’t know where the mermaids got their magic. Above us. Like the gargoyles. A moat surrounded the pit. and rocks had been littered throughout the pit to pique the audience’s bloodlust in the sport. Leonidas was a true gladiator and he fought like one. No sense of lightness. What he didn’t know was that I was the sword-bearer. A wide floating disc scooped me up and lowered me into the pit. oh. His green eyes lit with interest as soon as I blocked the first flurry of strikes. No sense of belonging filled me. It quickly became obvious that he’d trained all his life and knew his way around a sword. He tested me first. He was relentless. I saw no wizards. I had no more time for speculation. Once I hit the pit though. Two waterfalls falling from one of the levels above terminated into the moat. The gargoyles bought magic as either charms or potions from the wizards. I hoped what the barbarian prince promised wasn’t all too prophetic. no… His technique was smoother. Leonidas didn’t charge me and start hacking away. I doubted they could engage in such commerce. He took off his armor breastplate and fought in a transparent tunic. a railing. the people cheered when Leonidas used a railing to do a fancy leap in the air before pouncing on me. . But seeing how cut off the mermaids were.My fingers tightened around the ordinary blade. Not just another ordinary fighter.

Instead. It flew across the pit. What happened next. I picked it up and jumped to my feet. Burning pain followed and I rolled behind a rock. The blade sank deeply into his thick skin and hard tissue. My fingers found the hilt of the fallen blade. Unfortunately. Then. I couldn’t believe. holding the weapon in front of me. He didn’t move. he turned the bull on me. he waited. The crowd booed. I crawled for his sword while he drew mine from his shoulder. A door opened and a bridge dropped across the moat. he moved at the last second so it went into his shoulder instead of his heart. but it took a lot of effort and I slipped in the fine sand that made up the pit’s floor. “Coward. The bloodthirsty crowd roared with approval. He flipped me off the rock. I fell to the floor. yelling back at the crowd to work them up.” someone yelled. He bared his teeth and grabbed my blade with one hand and my ankle with the other. he caught its horns and pulled himself on top of the animal. . Just before the bull could gore him. Leonidas’s blade cut through my wetsuit and sliced a good line of the rubber up my left side. but Leonidas used the straps of leather to hook onto his feet and steady himself. I hacked down at the smiling barbarian. I waited until he reached the edge of the rock and did a one-handed handspring to jump on top of it. A white bull with some leather around its middle charged Leonidas.I blocked him. I fell backwards and quickly rolled. The bull bucked. I kicked his sword out of his hand. I heard Leonidas showboating.

Leonidas looked up at his father. peering down into the pit. “Ready the sacrifice.” The bull ran at me. I had failed her.” The King glanced around the pit. I wasn’t quick enough. These games will please the gods. Who has won tonight?” . I’d managed to piss him off before I died. My eyes closed. As if he’d known what I would do. The bull approached. pinning me to the ground. I should have maimed the innocent animal. At least. and I knew I’d lost. So much for “the only animal will be you.” Leonidas demanded.” Lelex laughed. I sidestepped it and reached for Leonidas’s ankle.” I couldn’t move. It ran off while Leonidas lunged toward me. With no cover around me. I should have thrown the sword at the bull. I had a second to twist. You decide the fate. I fell back into the dirt. he looked angry. “We have been truly blessed. And. He drove it deeper into my side. “Not yet.I cursed. He leaped off the bull. I looked up into the haze of bright light from above. my ears assaulted by the cheering and whistling of the crowd. *** “A worthy champion. I glimpsed deep scars running up and down the bull’s skin just before I had to duck. this time. the only option I had was to run or… My eyes narrowed. but I couldn’t. Blood flowed freely down my side and I felt myself going with it. “People of Aegae. McKenna. My smugness lasted about two seconds. Leonidas kicked me hard in the face. Leonidas impaled me with his sword. The maiden makes quite an opponent. Despite the win.

My eyes closed. I managed to roll onto it. It floated me up. Pressure built up as my torn tissue tried to weave back together. whom do you name as the second champion?” “Maiden!” All around the pit. The older soldier carried me from the disc to the King’s dais. “My daughter will certainly try.” came the unanimous shout. I’d never been healed by anyone but Vane or Matt. I had no idea how lucky I’d been. the crowd cheered. sire. The floor below me quickly stained with fresh blood.” . “Bring her up. “It’s not working. My body shuddered. I tried not to pass out. the healing seemed to be working but then blood started seeping back through. “My people. put a hand to my side and I cried out. She will die.” The crowd cheered in agreement. The King looked around the court. She lasted longer than any opponent in the past twelve contests.“Leonidas. Until that moment. Sire.” The girl. my son remains Aegae’s greatest champion. we are very pleased with the maiden’s performance. Leonidas pranced pompously around the pit for all to behold. A floating disc nudged me. “Can Leonora heal her?” Theras replied for the girl. Leonidas’s smug expression turned into an angry scowl. However. The girl tried to sow my skin together with what felt like steel wool instead of fine thread. “Indeed. The King asked.” the King commanded as he returned to his throne. But the wound is deep. Leonora said sadly. At first. Two girls in white toga gowns put a makeshift bandage over the widening wound. Another girl wearing a chain with a small emerald rushed forward. Leonora.

You will not need emotion. I could do nothing but watch as the crown on the King’s head glowed. “I have a way to strip you of yourself.” Lelex watched him with a small smile. Lelex’s eyes brightened with green light. Hands pushed me back down. “Unless…” “Unless what?” Vane said. You have it in you. bring me the trident. The guards pulled him to the dais and pushed him to his knees.” he said to the older soldier.” Vane said. The green light became brighter and brighter. King Lelex nodded to the guards holding Vane. “Let me heal her. You can be Aegae. You will feel nothing. You will not yearn or lust. The older soldier complied. You will know no warmth or love. “Would you do that for her?” Vane’s eyes locked with mine. “I would do anything. You took his power.” Lelex rose up.” Vane faced him. I tried to get up.” I said hoarsely. You can be a true son of Poseidon. You have a touch of the divine since defeating Bran the Blessed. “I’ll do whatever it takes. Helpless. as dark as the ocean. It will infect your soul. You will be as cold as the water. “Vane. “I believe you. wizard. stop. “Theras. “Stay still. You will no longer be merely a wizard. “N-No. Lelex aimed the trident at Vane’s head.” the King said.” I forced my eyelids open and croaked. Vane dropped to all fours. until its burning glare forced me to look away.” “We cannot trust you. Vane!” “Once I finish with you.” “Will you?” the King said. Take this gemstone off me. you will always hear the call of the sea. Lelex fired the trident at .“No!” Vane rattled his shackles. Ryan.

Still on the floor.” Lelex said. The chained gargoyles tried to rush the guards. The guards moved away from Vane.” the King said.” Vane got up on one knee.” Lelex pronounced. “No!” Grey and Colin shouted together. The guards were too numerous. “The new soldier will kill the gargoyle. Hunter green gills slashed across his neck. but they were quickly subdued. He bowed his head to Lelex. “I will destroy every last one of you. Leonidas looked at his father in surprise.” the King declared.” Leonidas frowned.” . My side seemed to be a dull distant ache as I began the final slide into oblivion. “Leonidas. “Give him your sword. I am your King and you serve me. The light blinked out. His face eerily calm. bring your sword. its pallor now showing a tinge of green. Vane frowned. “Who am I?” “You are a soldier of Aegae. but walked to the dais. The older soldier took the chains off Vane’s feet with a wary expression. “You will submit or I will behead all of your brethren. “Unchain him.” the King said. Vane’s eyes opened.” “Your name is Vane. Vane sat up. “Who are you?” the King demanded. yet nothing came out. “I am a soldier. He fell backwards on the marble.” Grey cried. You are my King. “You are a son of Poseidon. Lelex turned a cold gaze on McKenna. “No!” I tried to scream the word.Vane.

They walked the gargoyle past Gia. The older soldier took the chains off Vane’s hands. Two guards put a heavy block in front of her. “I will submit. She knelt in front of Vane.McKenna paled. His eyes held hers. . The sword swung without mercy.” Leonidas smiled. Tears streamed down Gia’s cheeks. Vane stood up. He lifted the blade. The guards shoved McKenna with a spear to move her along. Vane held up a hand to stop her. Leonidas handed Vane his sword. McKenna saw no more. McKenna started to bend over to place her head on the block. Gia put out a hand and McKenna grabbed it tightly. Two guards directed McKenna toward Vane.

CHAPTER 15 – THE LONG DARK CHAPTER 15 THE LONG DARK .

ashen mask. I turned my head away from the sickening sight of Lelex’s sadistic court. Grey sank to his knees. Leonidas reached in and pulled out the warm heart. whisper-soft thud sounded as McKenna’s head fell on the smooth marble. Vane sliced her torso. Lelex ordered Vane to remove the diamond chain off his neck.” he shouted.” I said as I glared at Vane six nights later. .” Lelex said. The crunch of bone filled the room. The mermaids didn’t seem bothered by the sight. his face a stony. Even barely conscious. fiber by fiber. Before anyone could even mourn her. Leonidas picked up McKenna’s head and held it up high. The court clapped in approval. A shock of fresh pain hit me as the vulnerable tissue pulled itself back together. A river of blood flowed across the marble. Leonidas kicked the body on its back. Cold hands probed my festering wound. “Poseidon will be pleased.A single. Lelex demanded. I wanted to throw up. Vane was kneeling beside me. “Let the banquet begin. I wanted to sully the pristine marble as they so ruthlessly sullied McKenna. ligament by ligament. The next thing I knew.” The head severed. *** “I hate you. “Take her heart. Another girl in a white toga and bare feet ran up with a gold platter. Leonidas put the still-beating heart on the smooth metal. The court cheered. McKenna’s body had fallen to the floor and landed on its side. it didn’t take me long to pass out. Blood dripped down his hand. Vane’s dark eyes flickered over me without emotion. Thankfully.

I beat Leonidas. I fought Leonidas tonight. Leonidas kept using the bull. The wild pain in the beast’s eyes haunted me every time I drove a sword into its flesh. Vane healed my body and Leonidas’s sacrifice screamed when his heart was taken. came to the room I was being held in. had come in to bathe me. palace servants. Vane divested me of a white tunic that went to my knees. I hadn’t the will to move. His severed head got speared onto a spike and displayed on the hill—just as McKenna’s had . Vane. Even with my body repaired. unlike the mermaids’ eyes. I stared at the ceiling. The imperceptible distinction afforded me a measure of hope. I don’t know how the mermaids managed to fashion it. Another gargoyle had been chosen as a sacrifice. Yet.Beautiful eyes containing specks of green in their irises. Yesterday was the same. More girls in white togas. The crowd loved me. I hadn’t lost since the night I failed McKenna. I no longer wore my bikini underneath. and her father. I was declared champion again. I assumed. But I hadn’t lost. Vane healed me. Leonora. Theras. Each night I wounded the bull. remained pristinely clear. The first night Leonidas lost. Without a word. he almost went mad. I slit the bull on its side. but Leonidas made it harder and harder each tournament. They. the green didn’t color his corneas. but it was comfortable. at least. The crowd booed him and I was taken away. The see-through tunic dress and a gold bikini were my standard uniform for the games. he stabbed me in the back. I had been given another one made out of a gold jersey material. With uncaring hands. I tried to make the cuts as clean as possible. After the fight was over. then left.

I was given a bow and arrow. Vane took his time with the healing even though the cut I’d gotten today was more of a scratch. but actually observing Vane. The two waterfalls acted like spouts in a huge bathtub. “When is the blood moon?” I asked. Leonora hung at his side. Vane healed me with his usual thoroughness. supposedly observing the process. I got a good gash on my side before driving my sword through the barbarian’s stomach.been. I almost didn’t see Leonidas round the fallen bull. It was mental torture. On the fifth night. I almost lost again when they flooded the pit. He ordered Vane to heal him in the pit and Leonidas woke up without a scratch. Leonidas refused. The crowd hadn’t been happy at the quick finish and I doubted I’d ever be offered that weapon again. On the third night. The fourth night. Lelex went white when he saw what happened to his son. It turned out to be the bloodiest fight so far since the water made it difficult to actually pin anyone down. When will this nightmare be over? . Leonidas had barely stepped into the pit before I had him pinned to the floor with all my arrows. Not that it mattered. Leonidas figured out I’d been sparing the bull as much as possible and he forced me to gut the poor beast. So we grappled each other again… and again. He’d patch my hurt so that I could be ripped apart again. The crowd cheered for us and I was taken back to my tiny room. Sick with myself. I saw a glimpse of a red sunset. Tonight. Through iron bars on an arched window. The King wanted to put in a new Aegae champion.

came forward and handed Vane the yellow diamond necklace that constrained his magic. It took a few seconds—seconds so long that every part of me tensed that there would be no reply and I would lie alone in the abyss. my eyes remained dry and open. I sought the one person who could save my sanity. he pushed the sheet aside and .” I called. but they didn’t trust him yet. Only Leonora and Vane were in the room. One of six guards.” His faint words filled the void. The necklace only came off for healings. Soft rays of the shrinking sun streamed in through the window. “Matt. Lelex may have declared Vane to be Aegae. I’d only seen Theras take it off Vane. to spend the tired tears of a beaten spirit. battered and broken. Theras had been helping Leonidas when the guards had come and whisked me from the pit back to my cage. As if he were actually there. His presence washed over me. but his expression remained as placid as ever. a salve soothing an infected mind. Yet. I thought I felt a tremor go through Vane’s fingers. Leonora pulled a white sheet over my still body. and until now.“Another ten days. “I’m here. “The bathers will be here soon.” Leonora answered softly. I glanced at him. You’re not alone.” she said. “Rest. watching us closely. The green tinge to his skin complimented his chilly demeanor. Vane finished the healing and stepped back from me. Vane put it on. they both left and I sat alone and exhausted in the darkening room.” Vane didn’t speak to me at all. Every part of me ached to cry. but much too soon.

. I looked at his dark eyes with fading hope. Except it was getting harder and harder to hold on. “Sorry. Vane mended my bleeding body. Afloat in the sea of relentless brutality. One injury and I would be wounded beyond repair. allowed my eyes to close.climbed into bed.” she said quickly. Like the bull. I winced. Every evening I fought Leonidas and a little bit of me died. I was lucky the bull had not pressed too hard or I’d probably be paralyzed. I couldn’t imagine what that healing would be like. darkness courted me. Leonora pulled at the skin on my back. The green specks had disappeared. I felt myself turning wild. Eight more nights had passed. His eyes had returned to their original hazel.” I said. After every fight. A deep cut went up from my spine to my shoulder. tried to do the same to my soul. had no other reaction.” *** “Your name is Vivane. Like the bull. Vane frowned. He gathered me up in his arms and pulled the cover back over us. my only anchor. “Don’t leave me. The regular ones were bad enough. Her dark hair fanned out around her shoulders.” “Never. but to my disappointment. Every night.” I replied and finally. Her brow furrowed in concentration as she focused on my latest wound. “I will. yet no hint of recognition filled those depths. I watched her work at my back in an oval mirror that occupied the wall in front of me.” he said. Warm tears leaked down my cheeks. I kept being brought back. Matt. “Hold on. I tucked my head into the crook of his neck. I almost wished for death.

Leonidas chose spears as our weapon. Of course. I’d never been very good with a spear. My hands shook. I had no doubt he planned to do the same to me.” . Some mermaids have a talent for healing. “King Lelex made this himself. the emerald around her neck glowed. Vane watched Leonora’s healing. “I’m surprised a charm is powerful enough to allow healing. In the mirror.” I said. I’d been forced to move quicker. Despite the fact that Vane had trained me on it. to think quicker.” She paused and met my eyes in the mirror. “I have a great gift. I lost tonight. but for my betrothal to Leonidas. With each game. Leonora nodded. his foot resting on the bleeding wound on my shoulder where the bull gored me.” I sputtered. The charm enhances mine. A wizard lost his life tonight. “He waits for me. But it is not simply the charm. the two of us grew more adept. Tonight. He has been blessed with much power. I would have been placed in service. Leonidas pinned me to the ground with a spear pointed down at the back of my head. “You want to marry him?” She frowned. The gargoyles and wizards took turns being the sacrifice. “Maidens.I had to admit this macabre dance Leonidas and I were locked in was doing wonders for my fighting skills. I still planned to kill the bastard first chance I got. he picked up my attack forms and I his.” “Some mermaids?” I asked. Somewhere along the way. The wizard hadn’t said a word when he lost his head and I still tasted the dirt of failure on my tongue.

In the mirror. “Of course. Now we are all scared of what’s to come. “King Lelex says they are a necessity so it must be.” Vane looked at Leonora sharply. He splayed his fingers on my bare skin. Usually mermaid-Vane was all business. the Vane who pushed at every step and demanded more than it was possible to give. “He hasn’t always been so unbending.” I wanted to shake my head. even though mermaid-Vane was only matter-of-fact with her. but it has changed us. I gasped when her fingers jerked my skin. “I wish I had as much ability to heal. Leonora’s face fell. “…all of you came.” Leonora colored. “Why don’t you allow me to finish up?” Vane interrupted. She’d never survive the real Vane—the abrasive Vane. but I didn’t actually know what we were anymore. Leonora watched us enviously. A warm trickle of blood went down my back tracing the spine. I thought he would be forever until…” She glanced at Vane. Leonidas believes in his father and so must I. I saw him bend his head to look at my wound. This was pure mastery… almost worth living for. He was matter-of-fact with everything. We used to be a great kingdom before Lelex brought magic to us. Soothing fingers created welcome numbness after Leonora’s heinous healing. I almost closed my eyes as pleasure shot through me.” A soft glow of warmth started at the base of my spine and . He is the prince and champion. Leonora took every criticism Vane gave like a knife to the chest.“But Leonidas! He’s a brute and you’re so… not. I should have been irritated by her crush on my boyfriend. These rituals…” She shuddered. I missed that Vane.

“Do you wait for him also?” I frowned. It would have taken a second of healing at the most for Vane to erase the blue-black marks. The first time he’d seen the blistered bruises he’d paused.” My heart squeezed at this revelation. Leonora’s eyes widened. The mermaid transformation had made them worse. an edge of pain reentered. Instead of pleasure. Vane’s bland expression didn’t change.expanded. It flared and bloomed with astonishing speed. “Wait? Why do you say that?” Leonora blushed. My heart nearly stopped. They paused just below my neck. You were half-asleep. One of the servants says he’s been chained to the walls.” A faint tremor went through Vane’s fingers. The fact that he didn’t meant something. but for some reason he didn’t. I had no idea what it meant but I reached for the carrot of hope it offered. Matt never showed me anything beyond himself when I spoke to him. trying to bait Vane.” I told Leonora. I wouldn’t have felt it if my every nerve hadn’t been engaged. but the tone of the healing did. He must be very powerful.” I said. Leonora watched me closely. Hardly anyone is allowed to go near him. His fingers traveled up the cords of my vertebrae.” It was nothing less than the truth. So imperceptible. The King has him under heavy guard. “I was here when the bathers came a few nights ago. “Him. Vane’s expression remained placid. I strove to keep calm. The tendril of hope I’d been holding in check unfurled. “He asked me to wait for him. You kept muttering his name. “Matt and I have a special connection. I winced when he yanked my shredded . “Matt is even better at healing.

” I continued. Leonora laughed. She looked away. Maybe he does not want it to be known. Her pointed ear shrunk so that it looked normal. “No. My ears stayed pointed. His expression neutral as the necklace went . but that does not mean he has experienced love. Leonora looked at him in surprise. Leonora? Should I?” Leonora smiled.” Her eyes fixed on Vane’s decidedly flat ears. “What do you think.” Leonora said.” She pushed back her dark hair. so most don’t bother.” I muttered. Bah! Vane finished the healing and stepped away from me.skin together. Experienced love. most consider it an honor. You can choose. “He waits for you too. but it wasn’t exactly a banner item I wanted displayed. Total lie. Not that I wanted to jump into bed with just anyone to get rid of my virginal state. as if embarrassed. “He is handsome.” I said cheerfully. very quickly I thought. I tried to twitch my ears. and besides. I tried not to roll my eyes.” “Very. It was the most he’d ever spoken on a subject not directly related to healing. “Let’s go. A guard stepped forward with the diamond necklace. Sweat broke out across my forehead.” “Only if you’re in a time warp. “It takes a bit of effort. I inhaled sharply. I wracked my brain for something else to say. Well worth dreaming of. “I haven’t given him my reply. Nothing. “It takes practice.” Vane said. A way to show true devotion. “His ears are not pointed. anything to pry open the small chink in his armor. Vane’s fingers fisted and the torn tissue on my back sealed with a stinging burn that caused my eyes to water. She elongated it again.” Vane said gruffly. She said slowly.

The blood moon was in two days. Feet moved swiftly across the marble floor. I .” “You came. “Is he here?” The breath I’d been holding came out of me in a whoosh. Everyday I waited for it to swell to its maximum size. He climbed into the bed and on top of me. I leaned up to whisper in his ear. he said to Leonora. In the dark. “I will and I’ll dream. The door closed. fixated. “We must still heal the bull. I didn’t dare. I almost didn’t hear the door creak open.back on. I could barely see him. The Dragon’s Eye gemstone winked against my neck. my eyes started to flutter close. I wondered what would happen when it did. “of him. The night stretched out and soon enough. It was almost there. Moonlight illuminated the the armored breast-plate and red leather skirt uniform of a palace guard. “See something you like?” His fingers tightened in my hair.” *** Night filled the room. My body begged for release from the relentless cycle of the games. I waited. I lay in bed and watched. Its luminance flitted across Vane’s face before he ducked into the shadows. I didn’t move. “Sleep well. Through my tiny window. Yet another part of me dreaded whatever was going to happen next. Part of me couldn’t wait.” I winked. Vane watched it.” Leonora said to me. Suddenly wide awake. A diamond on a gold chain hung around his neck. Shadows danced. a few rays of the moon penetrated. pulling strands until I winced. His fingers tangled in my hair. The moon sat bright in the sky outside.” Leonora nodded and waved the guard back.” I stared up at him. “You’re awake. I hoped.

“You knew a few days after?” He put a hand over my mouth. panting a little. Why didn’t you say anything?” “I was never alone. I was tired of resisting. I was able to slip past.” “How long?” I demanded. teeth. “You are no mermaid.” I sputtered. Lips. Tiger’s eyes glittered in the dark. I grabbed a fallen pillow and smacked him with it. He cleared his throat and said the one thing I thought I’d never hear. “The guards are still outside. Rough palms cradled my face while my fingers gripped the pillow on either side of his. a halfhearted response. It didn’t take long for him to respond.” “All those times you came. I put my hands flat on his chest and stared at them. “Yes. Admittedly. Hard.” The fight went out of me. It took longer than I thought. “I’m sorry.” White teeth flashed. The real answer was that he didn’t trust me. and you needed to believe so they would. He lowered his hand. mingled together. It all came back in pieces. My mouth crashed on his. tongue.” I quieted. Vane grabbed my wrist and knocked the pillow aside. I ate him up and didn’t let go until I had to come up for air. A tear leaked out anyway. .” My nostrils flared. “No. I said. a few days after.grabbed his shoulders and flipped him so I sat on top. looking down. So incredibly tired. considering what a bastard he’d been. but they’ll come if you’re too loud. I sat back. I looked down at Vane. “It took a few days—” “A f-few days. drowning out any other epithets.

“Right! You were helping me by training the enemy. “This didn’t help.” I smacked my hand against my forehead. “Ever since you pulled Excalibur.” His words almost echoed my own. The blood moon is almost here and I think I’ve figured out what that means. “Not a master plan. “Of course.” He touched the diamond necklace. “Lelex underestimated my magic. Did you think I hadn’t noticed?” My body went cold. Only when it was taken off could I make any real progress.” “You needed the help. you trained me. an arrogant brow rose. My fingers slid over the strange smooth metal on his chest. but I did take advantage. “Only when I was healing you. “You figured it out.” His fingers tightened in my hair. I recognized the forms. “You better have a plan. “So you decided to train me by making it easier for me to get slashed every night. It’s taken me this long after following every command to get Theras to trust me enough to move around the palace with minimal supervision. Expect my anchor was Matt. I said. you’ve been hiding behind me. Behind Merlin.” “So you could train Leonidas?” He grinned.” In the shadows. We’ve been in this hole for a month.” Vane’s gaze didn’t waver. I was able to hold off a complete mind-wipe and make it more like temporary amnesia. But it took me days upon days to remember again.” he observed. You were the anchor I held onto.Vane dried it without a thought. I fought to remember myself. “Fourteen days. What a master plan.” I snorted. You almost died in limbo—” . Did you think I wasn’t paying attention?” “I knew you would and be able to defend against them.

but I hear his screams clearly every night. No one has had it easy in this hole. .” “Right. “Did she feed you any grapes today?” “Not any sweet ones. It’s been so rough for you. We have to move tomorrow. My brother won’t last. But Merlin hasn’t broken. Going to banquets and having Leonora follow you around with big mermaid eyes. Shame choked me. He read the homicidal intention in my eyes and flipped me back below him. “I need you to call Merlin. It might be the bit of information keeping him alive. If you’re going to be the swordbearer. Matt stayed with me every night and I never asked. All I knew was that I wanted a reaction.” I was going to kill him. arching my body until he hissed. “What do you think I went through watching you night after night? You don’t know how many times I wanted to jump into that damn pit myself.” I stilled. It isn’t the blood moon. In pleasure? In pain? I didn’t know. Lelex still isn’t aware that you’re the sword-bearer.” I struggled against him. you have to get over the fear. I’d hoped to use that distraction.” Vane grabbed my wrists and pinned me against the bed. Tell him he needs to hold on just a bit longer. Except last night I barely heard the screams. but I don’t think we have a choice.“I did die!” “It’s made you afraid. “What’s going on?” “I haven’t been allowed near him.” I had no clue it was so bad. Tell him we’re coming. My fingers curled into a fist. As far as I know. Lelex is no doubt trying to figure out what we know about the danger coming—the irony being we don’t know anything. his big body crushing mine.

A finger traced the length of my amulet and paused on the stain of bruises that still lingered. I couldn’t breathe— “No!” . A tight. taking his time. “I’m here. I was seeing what Matt saw. he kissed the pulse beating on my neck just above the damaged skin. I looked down at his bare legs. Silent question flickered in hazel depths. It had no escape. It was the only comfort to be had in the hard length of the bed.” *** Shortly after that. I saw Matt’s arms hanging in the air. Flesh had been torn open in deep lines and left to fester after being whipped. I pushed further inside. “Tomorrow. shackles bit into skin.Vane released my wrists. Vane snuck back out. My stomach tied in knots. In his pupils I saw the reflection of a dark. I pushed to see more. He fanned my hair out around me. I wrapped my arms around a pillow and squeezed it tight. The dim glow of a sconce showed me three walls of a dingy room. I opened a door. Green pus oozed from the wound. to see what he might be seeing. I need you to die. discoloring the area. airless box surrounded me. It had no end. The guards inspected my room every hour.” I bit into the fluffy bits of the pillow. I caught his hand to stop him. covered with dried blood. A slow suffocation. I waited for several seconds before a faint response came. I reached out for Matt. Suspended from chains. “What do you want me to do?” Leaning down. Only darkness stared back at me. spun halo the hair made over the pillows. Near his feet. “Are you alright?” I tried to see inside his mind.

I put my cheek against the plank. the circle of faces peered down. I glanced up at the gargoyle sacrifice standing high atop the pit. I closed my eyes again. Firm legs balanced as gracefully as a cat. The hard lines of his regal face had a dangerous edge.” He repeated more softly. I opened my eyes and saw only my chamber. I stood on one side of the door. an insignificant being.” *** The next night. We’re coming. His lips curled in anticipation.” The soft plea squeezed my heartstrings.Matt shoved me out the door with a snarl and slammed it shut.“Matt. Vane and I are coming. I laid a palm against its solid surface. guards walked me through a long tunnel. Under a thin tunic. It took me a second to center myself. He remained on the other. It hadn’t been a huge surprise that Leonidas had chosen spears again after actually winning a match. Vane wanted me to . The crowd cheered as soon as I entered. Leonidas stepped out from the opposite tunnel. “Hold on. “I will. “I’ll be fine. Three levels high. armed with our spears.” “Stay with me. I looked up at them. The crowd roared with approval. I saw the door again. We crossed the bridge over the short moat and faced each other. Matt. In my mind. why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you say anything?” “I’ll be fine.” he replied. his tanned skin glistened with just a touch of glossy sweat. He looked stunning. down in the pit as I had done for fifteen days in a row. I took a cleansing breath. I stepped out into the light of the pit. I stood once again.

As Vane expected. I let it fly. I hoisted myself fully straight onto the bull’s saddle. I had picked the halfwall so that the bull would come out just behind me. It bent its head low. I saw it nick him in the shoulder just before I dropped below the half-wall. My action caused Leonidas to shoot. I moved to duck behind a half-wall that sat like a prop at a random location in the pit. The horns aimed straight so it could gore me. With one hand. collected himself. Vane eventually caved and came up with a riskier. I pulled myself onto its side. I hooked my foot into the stirrups to steady myself and at the same time I took aim with the spear. Leonidas circled me. I ignored the stinging pain and threw my spear in an arc at him. I wasn’t about to lose a match and watch someone die. I didn’t move. Soft fur tickled my arm when I hooked onto the straps of leather around the bull’s middle. The bull charged me. Leonidas gaped. I glanced up again. plan. yet infinitely more acceptable. The bull went past the half-wall and ran straight at Leonidas. and then threw his spear. I didn’t know who would volunteer as a sacrifice. even if he’d convinced me it was the only way. letting out a shrill whistle. because I would not have gone through with the sacrifice-one-to-save-all plan. but I had absolutely refused. “Is that all you have?” Leonidas laughed. I waited for it to get as close. the white bull came flying through a hidden door in the wall and across the moat. but the stalwart animal never faltered.lose tonight. A handcuffed and leg-shackled Grey stood at the top of the pit. It sunk into the bull. . A shock went through me as one spear struck cleanly into my chest. Good thing.

Sire. Lelex stood on the edge at the top of the pit. The guards looked on. “Vane.” Vane laughed.” Vane replied. Leonidas gasped. momentarily stupefied. Vane walked up. the maiden wins. His hands clutched the spear as he fell backwards. everything seemed to happen at once. I looked up. Lelex’s body fell to the ground. “You’ve tried this once before. eerily silent. Vane grabbed a sword from the older soldier’s side.The spear hit its mark. He kicked him to the floor and caught the King. The crowd stared at us. “Don’t do anything foolish. Vane put up his hands. “You don’t know me very well.” .” Vane sliced the King’s throat. “Heal the prince. He shoved Lelex to the ground and beheaded him. “I don’t think so.” The crowd nodded their agreement. palms out. Only two guards escorted him. “Vane. I pulled the bull to a stop before it trampled him. Then. Lelex glared at the crowd. A shocked roar arose from the crowd as the guards rushed Vane.” Theras said from beside the King.” Theras said. “The winner must be decided.” As soon as the necklace was removed. It struck Leonidas through the stomach. “Get the prince the healer!” he yelled. Theras removed the necklace. what makes you think it will work this time?” “I don’t. “Fine. “Agni.” The King laughed.” Theras beckoned. “No!” Theras yelled. wizard.

Vane pointed to the crumbling walls around us. Heat from the fireballs caused the pit to start steaming. While still bound. “You can fight me and I can kill you. rocks started to crumble around me. On the other stone. Vane had explained that the waterfalls were the ends of two central pipelines. He crouched. Grey jumped off one. Stone walls at the mouths of the waterfalls exploded.” Fireballs. The crowd screamed.” . It bought Vane time. The roof started to collapse on that level. Vane leapt toward him and cut Grey’s chains. Theras pushed Leonora behind him. I directed the bull back to its door. Theras and Leonora came through the steam on the second floating stone. The pit is going to collapse. hit the sides of the stadium. Vane fired two giant fireballs directly at the waterfalls. Back in the pit. Plugging them would cause water to back up and flood most of the palace. Water flowed freely. They landed at the same time as Vane and Grey. while Vane stayed on. Through the haze. Vane and Grey jumped on a floating stone. but the water seemed to bother the beast more. Vane put out his hands and aimed down at the stadium. Down in the pit. The bull whined as it became hard to see through the thickening air. It still had a spear embedded in its hide. Grey started fighting the guards at Vane’s side. They sailed down into the pit.Two fireballs shot straight at the guards. like a machine gun. one after another. with his sword in hand. Above me. facing Vane. Grey grabbed a fallen sword. The stones floated close together. “Uksati agni. I saw Vane blast two more fireballs at the wall just above another waterfall. Or you can try to save your prince.

As soon as we got through. Vane grimaced.” Grey said. “That poor thing’s been through more than you. He snorted in a friendly way and licked Vane’s face. should know .” I knocked Vane’s hands away from the bull. a skeleton crew of guards attacked us. You. “We don’t have time to play. of all people. “Merlin is on the level above us. you have a widdle puppy. “No! You’re not killing him. “I will come after you. The animal went straight to Vane. “Don’t worry. I struck Grey with the blunt end of the spear. Vane. “You’re no fun. His hands glowed red and he moved to put them on the beast. He’s been through enough. Theras straightened.” I went to the bull and touched the spear. Vane waved his hand and knocked them all out against the wall. warning me to stay away from the area. The bull whined.” Grey said to him and lowered his sword. The armory and the other prisoners are near where he’s being kept. Rocks collapsed and closed off the tunnel from the pit. “You need to heal him. “It’s what he asked.” Vane said grimly. Vane.Leonora let out a cry and jumped off the floating stone to go to a bleeding Leonidas lying at the center of the pit. You’ll be free. The bull carried me across the bridge into the tunnel. Grey and Vane ran behind me.” “You will have to find me first.” he promised.” I jumped off the bull. I looked at Vane.” “I’ve promised him more than that.” Vane jumped off the stone and ran toward Grey and me.” Vane shot a fireball behind us. After a brief moment of hesitation. as I promised. He jumped off the stone and started to move backwards toward Leonidas. “Aw. “You will die for your treachery.” Vane looked at me with strained patience.

*** The bull liked Grey. “Ryan and I will get Merlin. but it won’t be abandoned. The second level stood mostly empty. Vane seemed to know exactly where to go and led us swiftly though the tunnels.” Grey took off with the bull down the long hallway. I wasn’t going to let it die knowing just the pit. I wondered if the bull knew anything else other than these darkened tunnels. I doubt there will be many guards. It decided to shadow him as we made our way through the maze of the palace.” “Well.” I declared. Vane . I straightened with a determined expression. Collapsing the pit as a diversion had been brilliant because all the guards seemed to be rushing to the center. We waded through the half flooded interior. get Excalibur. Vane cursed. “The wizards and gargoyles have been separated. but it went much deeper than mine did.” I told Vane. this is not the end. Sounds of chaos still filtered from the general area of the pit. Above all. He’s a good distraction. The pain in the beast’s eyes was a reflection of my own pain. I traded my spear for a sword from one of the knocked-out guards.that. I stared into the big brown eyes of the bull and put a hand on its wet nose. “What?” Grey said. “I promised him an end if he’d help us today.” Vane directed Grey to the armory and the prisoners. “Ask the bull if he wants to go with us. “You can talk to him?” Vane nodded. Take the bull. We made it to the next level without encountering much resistance.” I put my hand against the bull’s face. correctly interpreting my intention.

I want you to remember one thing. .hurried off in the opposite direction. I stifled a sob.” he warned. “I’ll take care of them. We rounded a corridor. The glimpses I’d seen the night before had been nothing compared to the full horror before me. I stopped cold at the threshold. With my sword. “You’re not going to like what you see. I followed him. I barely had time to shiver from the shock of electricity the kiss pumped through me before Vane released me as abruptly as he’d captured me. “Alright. I fought off one guard and entered into the nightmare Lelex had devised for Matt. Vane pulled me into a shadowy corner just beyond where five soldiers guarded a door with a slit at the top. Vane ran out of the shadows at the guards. the light illuminated his face. The guards scattered. “I know. You get Merlin. He shot a fireball at them and one at the door. I followed.” Vane said. Matt hung from chains on the far wall. I moved to take a step out of the shadows.” I pictured the little bit of the horror Matt had let slip through last night. He gave me a suspicious look at the easy agreement.” I said. My heart racing with adrenaline.” Hard lips claimed mine in a possessive kiss. “Before we get my brother. When he lifted his head. The door flew open. A lone sconce lit the stark stone box of a room. He yanked me back. My hand went to my mouth.

CHAPTER 16 – THE LION CHAPTER 16 THE LION .

He couldn’t see.” I thought to him.” From the doorway.” “Can you heal him?” I said through the lump in my throat. I closed my eyes and pictured the door again. I pounded on it. “It won’t bring him back though. He’d been starved and beaten and who knew what else. grime. “The damage is extensive. It won’t be enough. I doubted that his vocal chords even worked anymore. “What do you mean?” . His eyelids looked too swollen for him to be able to open. He remained as he was. I opened my eyes. No one answered. and feces filled the room. His head jerked at the sound of my footsteps. but I can heal his body.” I turned back to Matt. I knocked on it. he looked Matt over with dispassionate eyes. Fear spilled from him. He shrank back. “Matt. A skin whose color I couldn’t determine. It surrounded me. “You’re going to need more than that. I walked toward him slowly. “This is worse than I thought. His mouth moved. a palpable throbbing object in the air. It’ll weaken me. Dried blood caked the insides of his ears. His ribs poked out from under his skin. No one answered. The stench of blood. but no sound came out. I wondered if he could hear me. A tattered loincloth and an ugly chain with a yellow diamond were his only apparel. “Guards won’t be bothering us.” Vane stepped inside the room. It’s me. I reached up and touched the sides of his face.” Vane said from behind me.Matt was almost completely naked.

but I saw the tight lines of his jaw and realized that seeing Matt like this upset him as much as it did me. I watched Vane. It doesn’t matter. There’s a door—” “A what?” Vane shook his head. “I’m not sure what I did. . “Now. Vane knelt by his brother and reached into his leather skirt. Vane laid him on the ground. He’s locked himself inside a box. He waved his hand.” I had no idea what he was talking about. “Never mind. Once he wakes. “You’ll have to wake him first. move—” He picked me up and set me aside. That piece is the key. Considering how hard the brothers went at each other.” “I’ve tried. He’s probably done the same thing I did. His lips grazed my ear.” Vane came up behind me. I blinked at the underlying anger in Vane’s magic. Vane put his hands around my waist. He drew out Lelex’s crown from a hidden pocket. I’m not talking about using the amulet. It was the snake—” “He almost died that day. You. he’d played it cool. he’ll be able to heal. The amulet isn’t working. while I’ve spent the last month digging myself out of mine.“His mind. Use it to find him. Matt’s shackles and every link in the chains that held him blew apart. So far. You gave him a piece of yourself to bring him back. Call him back like you did at Akrotiri. it surprised me a bit. he’s spent the month digging himself in deeper.” I looked at Matt’s battered face. “What do we do?” “Not we.” My eyes fixed on Matt’s sealed ones. Matt fell forward into Vane’s arms. However.

Vane snorted before uttering an incomprehensible magic word. . won’t he feel all this?” “Yes. “Your turn. He crooked a finger and beckoned me forward. As I recall. this is the first place the mermaids will come. A thought came to me. The door remained unyielding. I pounded on it again. Unshed tears stung behind my eyelids at the emaciated state of him. Vane tapped it against the diamond on Matt’s chest. Vane waved his hand and the chain broke apart. My eyes flew to meet Vane’s. I yelled. The emerald on the crown glowed. a wall of stone. Vane kept the emerald against the diamond. I pounded harder until my knuckles bled. Matt shuddered. “But—” He grabbed my hand and gave it a squeeze that was part reassurance. he looked up at me. your obstinacy forced me to change that plan. he’s keeping the pain at bay. I saw the door again.” I blanched. “If I bring him back. Then.” I said. Vane picked up the diamond and threw it across the room. I closed my eyes. Wind fluttered around us. “Is that why you killed him?” “I had thought to steal it.” I knelt by Matt.“Surprise. Finally. Wherever he is. I opened my eyes and shook my head. “We don’t have a lot of time. Surprise. the diamond dimmed.” I untangled my hand from Vane’s. He let it go reluctantly.” “I’m not obstinate. Once they start thinking again upstairs. part force. That means he has to wake up and help with his healing. You’re going to be asking him to feel everything. We have to do this fast.” I muttered.

“Alright. The light faded. I saw the Minotaur. The Minotaur stopped and his glowing eyes faced me. I heaved again. He looked at me with heated intensity. I grabbed his hand to stop him. I stepped out of the cave. My feet sank into smooth sand. He shouldn’t have been able to. I looked around the cave. I walked along a . Do whatever it takes. but this time. I fell on top of Matt. “It’s going to take something extreme to bring him back. I held a spear in my hand. Water sloshed at my feet. On all fours. Still holding the spear. The effect was instantaneous. I could no longer keep myself upright. I don’t know how Lelex did this. “Soon.” Vane reached into his pocket and pulled out Medusa’s snake.” “It ties you together. It liked the chase. The Minotaur had disappeared. I ignored it. Which means whatever we’re dealing with is dangerous and strong. I put my hand up to shield my eyes. My hands slammed to the floor. Its eyes glowed with hunger.” The light at the opening expanded. it ran ahead of me.” the Minotaur whispered from the dark behind me. The bull-face sighed. I followed it down through the cave. we do this the hard way.” He picked up the snake and opened the stopper. My body heaved in parallel.” He opened Matt’s mouth and let a single drop fall from the snake’s head.” A harsh shadow fell across his face. This time. In front of me the Minotaur laughed. This is our only option. Come back in the dark with me. We ran into the endless dark until the bright opening at the end of the tunnel appeared again. “That almost killed us last time. I hunted it. He is the most powerful wizard I know. In the cave tunnel. “You don’t have to go. “I took it off Lelex in the throne room.

I didn’t see Matt in the water. Black clouds moved across the horizon. I looked up into the sky. reddening the rockface of the cliff. How would you ever free him? You are naught. It pierced the imaginary Lelex through the chest. Time was running out. He sought to trick me. I looked into the soft waves.” I whirled around. He wore his crown and held the trident. I looked back toward the cave and above it extended the side of a cliff.” I let the spear in my hand fly. Lelex sat on a rock at the edge of the beach. “He’s just hiding. I said lamely. Those who seek him shall be consumed by him. he’s here. prowling closer. The sun shone down. “Where is Merlin?” Lelex’s eyes sharpened. we are not merely mermaids. He doesn’t even know himself. I saw a thick tree with heavy branches.” “Protectors of what?” “The Minotaur. lies the realm of the Earth-Shaker. “Lelex is dead.” a deep voice said. Plenty of rock. The same one I’d found Matt on before. “Yet I know where Merlin hides. but he did not realize. We are protectors. “He’s locked himself away.” “You seek power.” I glanced at the black clouds.” Lelex spat. They creeped toward me. At the top of the cliff. To get me to tell him our secrets. My hands tightened around the spear. There was no Siren.calm beach.” “We seek only knowledge. “And you’re a distraction. of course. They chased the surf. . Within Aegae. He wasn’t anywhere on the beach. but a little girl.” “Am I not?” He laughed. You’re not him. but no Matt. Only the Fisher King may control him. I squinted up. “Oh. I started running.

He was hungry. kitty. Slowly. I stared into the sad. “Maybe not such a little girl after all.” He eyed me. I was going to have to climb the cliff. I was not going to put out my hand and say “Here. I glanced down at myself. I had found Matt. I saw only a menacing emptiness. Above me. “Here. the lion jumped in front of me.” I was pretty sure the lion would chomp my hand for a snack. “Do what it takes. I stopped. a lion roared from the top of the cliff. .” I told him.” There was only one answer. I lowered myself to my knees and held out my hand. dark brown eyes. Up close. Rays of yellow sun shone down on the mammoth cat. I hoisted myself up on the top of the cliff. Yet. They’d be at the beach in a few minutes. My legs were bare and I’d lost the sandals.” My heart skipped a beat at the sound of Matt’s voice. what choice was there? I reached the top in what felt like an hour later. “I will hurt you. His mangy fur was bare in places. It shook. he was not the prettiest lion I’d ever seen. I grimaced. As soon as I landed on the rocky cliff. Wherever they touched. I still wore the tunic and bikini I’d worn in the pit. kitty. His ribs stuck out.Lelex looked down at the spear. The lion growled low in his throat. “I taste good. The desolate pain in them reminded me of the bull. I took a step toward him. Red colored his chest. Black clouds crowded relentlessly forward. I forced it to still. highlighting the glitter in its tawny fur.” He fell backwards. I didn’t have to search for the lion. Vane had said. I stood still and let the lion eye me.

” he replied. Mutilated flesh best described the state of my arm. I pushed myself up on my elbow with the arm that still functioned. the bone broken but still there. He still lay on the floor. I gave him an annoyed glare. He had my arm between his teeth. “You’re alright. “I’ll look when I want to—” Matt screamed. I looked down at Matt’s stomach.“I know. His hands idly draped on Matt’s side. “Look. Massive jaws broke bone and flesh easily. *** I woke up with a start. “How are you feeling?” “How is Matt?” “Look for yourself. I really didn’t want to. Vane watched me with a strange look. but he wasn’t healing him. I blinked and focused. The lion took one leap.” I replied. The lion roared again. A chunk of skin had been torn off at the spot where Matt had bitten . It was still attached to me. Vane sat on the other side of him. I saw no more. “What are you doing?” I demanded. I screamed. His powerful teeth clamping down on my arm. Dim light told me I was back in the dungeon room.” Vane said. Black veins crisscrossed from wrist to armpit. It appeared rotted. My head was pounding.” Vane ordered. One arm throbbed with pain. Blue light shimmered across his chest and face. Blue light filled my vision and thankfully. My head turned without thought. I didn’t have the nerve. I nearly gagged.

the thick ones. he’s had enough. Vane stared at me. Vane rose and came around to sit beside me. What did you do in there?” “You said do what it takes. The skin had healed. but Vane read the reply in my face. “It’s not what you think. Vane dropped my arm.” I looked down. Matt shuddered. radiating out from the . the red light faded. I winced when he started healing my arm. tears stinging my eyes.” I muttered. Red magic flowed from his fingers. The blue light shimmering across the top of his body remained steady. I flexed my fingers. He wasn’t gentle. The bite had healed. The smaller black veins had disappeared. “Alright. “Wait. He’s healing himself by feeding on you. His face took on a resigned expression I didn’t like.” I said. Feeling had also returned. However. “You’ll have scars. The black veins moved further up to touch my right shoulder while the blue light expanded over Matt’s stomach. “He asked so you gave yourself to him?” He didn’t ask. “He’s fine. I hissed. I didn’t say it out loud.into the forearm. “Vane!” I looked anxiously at Matt. I tried to explain. I had sword gashes deadlier than this wound and their healing I now compared to a soothing tonguelicking. human teeth sank further into my flesh. Much smaller.” Vane didn’t look at me as he took a hold of my mutilated arm. Finally.” He moved to take my arm out of Matt’s mouth. There was this lion —” Vane jerked my arm out of Matt’s mouth. “What if we lose him again?” “I don’t care. It felt like a thousand needles pricking me at once.

” I said.” “Is it?” He recaptured my newly healed flesh in a tight grip. Vane lowered his sword. though. “Need assistance?” Gia ran in past him.bite spot. He was still wearing a tattered wetsuit. remained. “I’m so glad to see you. A lot. I bit my lip to keep from crying out. We need to finish healing Merlin.” I couldn’t get a word past the huge lump in my throat. bring the other wizards. didn’t look much better. Movement sounded at the door. Vane watched me inspect myself with halfhooded eyes. most of the rubber material stretched awkwardly. The wizards. She wore a tunic dress like mine. “You’re upset. Clarence. He flinched. After fifteen days. Many were torn. Several of them still wore their wetsuits. The wealth of hurt in the simple question twisted at my heartstrings.” The others streamed in. Vane picked up his sword and jumped up. “Who wants this?” A visceral thrill went through me at the sight of the sword. I put my uninjured hand on his cheek. themselves. “Emerson. “I did what I had to do to save him. She threw her arms around me. “Did I ever have a real chance?” With you? He meant. I kept my hand on his face. That’s it. Blake stuck his head inside. I nodded into her hair. Grey sauntered in. Some wore mermaid clothing. He held up Excalibur. the . I had missed it.

He stared at us. After several minutes and the combined healing efforts of seven wizards. I asked.” Matt said. “The rest of us were packed into one. seemed the most unaffected and he walked with a slight limp.” *** We climbed up a wide staircase to the top level of the palace. “Better than being smelly for a month. . maiden. “I saw it in Lelex’s mind. She sniffed at Blake. “What is that?” “The passageway to the Lady. “I don’t know—” “Don’t strain yourself.oldest wizard among them. “I know where.” Blake said. “You don’t like wearing a skirt?” “I think it’s cute. The gargoyles hurried in with more energy. Vane shrugged.” “But where is it?” Grey asked. It’s here.” Gia blushed and stuck out her tongue at him. Grey tugged at the toga the mermaids had fitted on him for the sacrifice. but didn’t speak.” Matt replied. He finally let go of my arm. I looked at Vane questioningly. “Think I can get my wetsuit back?” I grinned. “We find what they don’t want us to find.” “What do we do now?” Grey asked.” “You got a cell to yourself and regular baths. It’s the source of the mermaids’ magic. All heads turned to look at him. Matt sat up. “Give him time.” Gia added. Matt rubbed his forehead.” Vane stood up and secured a sword into the golden belt that tied the leather skirt of his uniform. His voice sounded about a hundred years old.

From my vantage point. Matt rode on top of the bull.” Grey said. I happened on the other fresco in a bedchamber—” “You would.” Vane replied. Finally. Windowed walls showed off stunning vistas of Aegae. “I don’t know. “Hurry.” Matt said. The wizards took out the few guards that lined the walls soundlessly. I agreed. Vane led us without faltering. and pink across an endless sky. The bull picked its way up the staircase with surprising agility. We reached the top floor landing. Matt grimaced.“I’m so ready to get out of this hellhole. an aria. The outer wall of the palace was partially open to the outside. We snuck down abandoned corridors. Rich red tapestries lined the walls. The strange echo of music. Many were flooded with water. We hurried down the slick marble hallway to a central bedchamber.” Vane explained. I saw what Vane meant about the . “The palace is built into the side of a hill. The setting sun sparkled in bright orange. floated up from the middle of the palace. The palace wound this way and that. purple. we reached the last staircase. We’d gotten from the dungeons to the top floor. “The bull will throw you if I ask him. Vane continued to lead us with unerring certainty through the maze of corridors.” Vane said mildly. “What is that?” I asked. One is in the throne room. “There are two frescoes of the red doors we came through. “Where are we going?” Matt asked. That room is too central to have a hidden passageway attached. but it’s keeping them busy.” Still too weak to walk.

decorated a central beam across the top of the canopy. the grand centerpiece in the room. I still wore my champion uniform. An array of weapons hung inside. the wall that abutted the hill.” Matt slid off the bull. I have to find another thing. The wizards outstretched their hands. “Lelex’s room. We all turned to look behind us. but had stolen a belt off a fallen guard in the dungeons. He wobbled. Eighteen of us against a hundred of them—our chances were good. backed by Theras and a large group of soldiers. The crest of the mermaids.” Leonidas declared from the door. Vane cursed. I noticed Vane was studying him too. with nothing below it or above it. “You . I touched Excalibur. but steadied himself. “It’s not here. It was built into the hill. The gargoyles raised their swords. the winding snake that Lelex was wearing as an armband.” Vane crossed to a big armoire and flung it open. I resisted an urge to run over and offer support. I pulled out Excalibur. “The bed is up against the hill. Leonidas looked at Vane with a furious expression.” Vane confirmed. “That is because I have it. I spotted Leonora hiding behind the soldiers. there stood a massive bed with a golden canopy.” “The trident?” Matt asked. hooked to my side. Leonidas stood in the hallway. “I don’t see red doors. The gargoyles gripped their swords in front of them. Look closer.bedchamber being ideally situated. afraid to let them out of their sights. It looked more like a covered bridge than a bedchamber. Vane flung open the gold doors. On the far wall. Vane nodded.

He . “Give me my crown!” Theras noticed and stood on alert. Vane glanced at me. Leonidas reached out to catch the crown. A huge whirlpool began to swirl below us. I stepped up to the whirlpool. carelessly dangling it over the whirlpool.” Matt muttered behind me.” Vane tossed the crown at Leonidas and shouted to us. Vane twirled the crown around on his fingers. “Leonidas—” “If you insist. For this I shall make your death slow. A soft beam of green light shimmered across the bull’s face. Leonidas shouted. “Now!” Startled.” The emerald gemstone glowed. these also had a golden bull carved on top. The massive bed creaked and started shifting to the right. Several of the wizards who were standing by the bed moved in front of it.have betrayed us most grievously. Under the bed appeared a set of red doors that were perfectly matched to the size of the bed. Just like the doors we came through. Surreptitiously. The red doors opened up. Vane focused Lelex’s crown at the golden bull. “A passageway. Vane commanded. Vane walked over to stand on the frontline of the standoff. Vane. “Would you like to see what your father has been hiding?” He took the crown out of his pocket and placed it on his head.” Theras spat. then at Matt.” Vane took the crown off his head. “Kavas.” “Get in line. “What is that?” Leonidas asked. It was a signal. He crooked a brow at Leonidas. Matt did the same. then Clarence and the others followed. “That is not yours.

Vane beckoned the white bull. Knock.” Matt said. “Go!” he shouted to me as he climbed on top of the bull. Red magic flowed over the animal. So did the others. The mermaids advanced. Vane waved a hand and the trident flew to him. I stared into Matt’s eyes. Going down the whirlpool reminded me of going down a slide. . Dark eyes flickered and I knew he heard me. His eyes lingered on my newly healed arm for a second before going to my neck. Black rock like the one we’d seen at the first set of red doors made up the interior. albeit an underwater one. The pond sat on one edge. I looked at the ring I was wearing and saw it had turned black. It was the last thing I saw before my head submerged. The whirlpool dropped me into a pond.” Instinctively. “The whirlpool did something to the charms. Matt fished me out of the pond and pulled me up onto the cavern floor. He opened his mouth to say something else when a rumble sounded behind us.dropped the trident. Matt jumped into the whirlpool. Luckily. I still had gills.” he said. I touched the Dragon’s Eye. Vane blasted the mermaids again before he urged the bull into the water. Knock. “But our natural magic seems to be intact. Vane blasted them with a fireball. The wizards had lit a few fireballs allowing dim light to flare through the empty cavern. “The charm is closely tied to me. I jumped.” he said. The amulet warmed under my touch. “Your gills are gone too. Vane and the bull free-fell through the funnel of the whirlpool. “Follow them!” Leonidas shouted.

Everyone else hurried inside. “There is a cavern here. I absorbed that. I put my arm around her shoulder. I stopped cold. “He’s becoming their leader.The bull emitted a pained groan. Gia and I followed. Their future king. Grey made a face in response. “Let’s get going. Matt.” Vane jumped down from the bull. The tunnel shook as rocks collapsed to block the opening. We leaned together. And they adore him. “Move!” Vane dragged me into the tunnel.” Matt commanded. The dark passageway extended past the mouth of the cavern. and the other wizards lined up behind us. but Grey tried to cheat every time so he would draw the short straw—” “He what?” I exploded.” A splash came from behind us in the pond. but couldn’t find the words. A gargoyle leader. The gargoyles wandered out into the darkness.” Grey. I wanted to ask Gia how she was. They glided smoothly onto the cavern floor. our heads touching. “Vicarati.” one called out to Grey. Gia came up beside me. “I’ve seen this before. Vane. Vane floated them up in the air before they landed in the pond below. “They drew straws to be the sacrifices. It seemed we’d all changed in a mere fifteen days. Sire. One of the wizards lit a fireball and threw it out into the tunnel. They blasted the tunnel’s entrance. Leonidas’s head popped up from the water. They will soon be behind us. . Gia watched me with sympathy. slightly more elegant than my dunk into the pond. He led it toward the tunnel. Ryan.

I’ve been in this tunnel before. “Matt. I waited for the others to walk ahead of us before going to Matt. “Leonidas has his father’s crown. time to show our mettle. “Come on.” Vane said as he came up beside me. remember? Not a spell.” Clarence and another wizard lit fireballs on their palms and went in front of the bull to lead the way. His eyes met mine. “How?” “Mermaid magic. “It won’t hold them. “It’s the one from the snake vision. The one with the Minotaur. His gills remained. I looked at his neck.” Matt said. about the Minotaur and this cave—” I gestured at the cavern.” Vane took a hold of the bull’s bridle. They’ll be able to break through.” “It will delay them. I had to tell him what Excalibur had shown me about Vane.” Vane pulled away with a sardonic smile. listen. I demanded. he caught my arm in a tight angry grip. champion. A fierce light colored Matt’s amber eyes. “Matt. A shiver of unease went up my spine.” “Good.” Vane said. What had I done now? . I thought I saw his eyes flash with green.A rainbow of magic fluttered across the rocks before it sank into them and disappeared.” I looked around at the jagged rocks. I touched them. “How could being trapped in the dark with a man-eating beast be good?” “At least we know we’re in the right place.

THE WHITE BULL CHAPTER 17 THE WHITE BULL .CHAPTER 17 .

I glanced down at his hold. We reached the end of the passageway and emerged into another cavern. A gold carving of a bull had been gouged into the rock just before the bridge. Releasing me. I went past Matt to the middle of the group. “It brought you back. his shoulders stiffened.” Vane said. “It’s steady. “The arm is fine. he stalked ahead. “Don’t ever do it again.” I tried to tug my arm away. it could blind a person. Was it me or did every guy come with a crazy button? “It’s you. “You’re welcome. He kept walking and with him went the light.” came the caustic reply. I was going to have to figure out what was going on with Vane myself. Matt’s magic burned so bright. but . Usually.” A dim blue fireball floated in the air beside us.” he spat out. Grey put one foot on the bridge to test it.Matt’s eyes fixed on the black veins running just under my skin. I said simply. I stared after him. To my satisfaction. His knuckles had turned white from strain. “You didn’t need to do this. but he held it tight. It was a reminder of how close he had come to not making it. A long narrow stone bridge stretched across a river of murky water. It only took a few seconds in the encroaching blackness to convince me to run after him.” He didn’t say anything.” I shouted at his disappearing back. “Definitely the right place.

“We can’t swim. “We need a glamor. “We could try Excalibur.” “No. Matt stopped me.” The older wizard . The wizards all lined up.” Clarence interrupted. Suction cups lined with sharp spikes on the tentacles caught and crushed the rock with ease.” Grey took his first step onto the bridge.” I took a step forward. Grey touched his neck where the gills had been. “She’s not going in without any forethought.” Matt said.” Gia said from beside me. “We’re running out of time. One wrong step on the slick stone and you’ll be swallowing water.” Vane ordered. Gigantic tentacles sprang from both sides of the bridge like snapping jaws.” Colin stopped him.” Vane twirled the trident in his hand in contemplation. We don’t have the energy to float everyone across. He picked up a loose rock from the ground and threw it out over the bridge. The river started rising. “Don’t collapse the bridge. A roar filled the chamber and the whole cavern shook.” repeated Blake. “Great. A shield until we cross the bridge. “Fun. The wizards shouted a spell. Colin threw another rock toward the bridge. Water lapped over the bridge. A tremendous gust of wind spun out at the creature. “Wizards! Blast this creature. You’ve risked her enough.slippery. “Wait. that worked. What fun. Who knows what else might be in the water.” Vane rounded angrily on Matt.

slim neck rose out of a hole at the other end of the bridge.” Vane completed.” It was too late. It stomped on the golden carving in the rock. A shimmer of dust made its way across the bridge. “A gift from the Gorgons. A roar shook the chamber. No one spoke as we held our breaths. I wanted to do the same. “Clarence. The bull snorted beside Vane. “Clarence. The creature emitted a shrill.” I replied. “We just passed Charybdis.” Vane put his hand on my shoulder and . I squinted my eyes. I looked at it. Vane cursed. its Medusa head had snakes instead of hair squirming out from its follicles. The creature smiled. rolling scream.” “Or it’s a Scylla. Gia let out a mewling sound of grief.” “In which case cutting off the head will replace it with two. “How do we know which one it is?” Blake asked.” Vane shouted. The cloud of shimmering dust in front of it solidified into a solid stone statue in the shape of Clarence. The dust reached the end of the bridge. “Shhh.muttered a word and his whole body disappeared. wait—” said Matt. We have to cut off its head. shut your eyes. “It’s a Medusa. “How do we kill it. in either case?” Colin asked. “Don’t look at it. Tentacles flew out of the air and crushed the statue. As wide as the bridge itself. A giant female head on a long.” Vane muttered.” Vane held up a hand to silence him. I let my breath out. On its face sat one giant eye and a mouth with three rows of teeth. Clarence was already on the bridge. Beside me. “What is he saying?” “Hear for yourself.

Vane kicked the monster with both feet. “No. Water splashed even higher across the bridge. I will tell you when to strike. In the other. Opening his eyes. It gave a great shuddered and fell forward. They reached the hole just as the creature’s head rose from the water. using one hand. We reached the hole. “I will run across. The monster caught the white bull with its eye. It landed on the other side right as the creature’s head fully surfaced. They raced across the bridge. Tentacles rose once again.” Vane jumped on top of the white bull. This time. Gia held my other hand and we ran across the rapidly disappearing bridge. The animal turned to stone. Sire—“ Vane dropped his hand from my shoulder. right on top of Vane. my heart in my throat. as the bull jumped through the tentacles with easy grace.” “Yes.put his other hand on the bull’s bridle. Vane stabbed it again. It is my time. one vicious strike that drove deep into the creature’s soft pulp of a cornea. “Hold hands. Vane stood on the other . The creature whirled at the same time that the bull did. “Let’s go. “Vane!” I cried out. Vane stabbed the creature’s eye with the trident. You keep your eyes closed. he carried the trident. I was saved for this. The bull jumped over the snakes. snakes writhing. Then. I will be champion. I go to the great fields. the creature’s wail shook the whole chamber.” Matt yelled as he grabbed mine. I watched. Blood colored the water as it sank down into its murky depths. The creature screamed. His own still squeezed shut.” Matt urged. But I’d heard enough. I am fast.

The transformation had preserved the bull’s scars. I bit my lip.” Vane answered. Matt jumped on the floating head. He came up beside me.side with the trident.” Vane commanded.” His pupils flared green. When it screamed.” It worries me. You couldn’t possibly understand it unless you had mermaid —” “I am a mermaid… sort of.” “Mahoksa.” He touched his gills. As the others followed past the fallen Scylla. the creature’s head squished under my feet. I went to the bull. Two steps later and I stood on the other side too. You knew the answer. “This is beyond your wizard abilities—to understand a rare creature such as this. “We never even asked him his name. I’ve managed to keep myself intact. Lelex changed me.” “I am reckless. The mermaids were savages and Vane already had . The creature’s head drifted into the hole. “Does that disgust you?” “Of course not.” “You didn’t hesitate at all. He crossed. “That was reckless. Ryan. Great bull. I will always have these. could you understand it?” I frowned at him. but part of me will always be mermaid. I put my hand on the stone statue. “I thought you understood that. Snakes floated lifelessly in the water. I faced him. A few wrinkles marred the smooth surface.” “Why did you take out the eye instead of the head?” Vane’s lips twisted into a small smile. “Step over it. Next. “Maybe I believed you.

a replica of the maze. A stream of faint blue light colored the air. The light morphed into a picture. landing in the water. Despite the open top. “It’s going to take us days to figure this out. He and the other wizards floated a giant fireball over the ledge to light the valley. . I took a step closer to the edge and stumbled. Vane blew into the air and the dust scattered. “This is why we came. “Antyakriya atasa. It whittled into the stone statue and ground it into fine dust. Beyond it.” His pupils returned to normal and he turned back to the bull.” said Vane.” He raised his hand at the bull statue.aggressive tendencies. “We should put the creature to rest. We all looked at it closely and compared it to the maze below. Vane caught me. “Careful. We stood on a cliff and below us lay the biggest maze I’d ever seen. This time. “Good.” Matt waved a hand in the air. there was no river.” Matt directed a fireball beside me. “Are you sure there’s no other way?” Blake stared down over the valley.” “No. It was a quiet group that went into the rough doorway beyond the bridge. Grey groaned. Emerson. the center remained shrouded by some kind of lush vegetation. as steep and as long as the one back on Fira. we emerged onto another ledge.” A sharp wind surrounded the bull. The paths led to a center. but no donkeys carried us this time. It illuminated a path of narrow steps leading down into the valley. The circular maze stretched across the whole interior of the hill. The path spiraled down.

“I’m fine. Vane’s lips twitched with suppressed laughter.” I closed my mouth. There was an underlying edge to his tone I couldn’t put my finger on. his husky voice still sent a shiver down my spine. Vane leaned down to my ear and said just loud enough for Matt to hear. Matt raised a brow. Grey slid off the top of his toga. “Alright. Matt’s eyes narrowed in our direction. “You would be my first choice.“It’s accurate. Blue light sank under his skin and a tattoo of the maze inked itself on the smooth surface. “Someone who doesn’t mind being shirtless. “I need someone to hold the map.” Matt huffed. Yellow overlaid blue light. though not for any sort of pleasurable reason. the trident in his hand. do what you have to. . Despite knowing that Vane said the words to needle Matt. Blake cleared his throat. Vane stared out at the valley. “You see?” Beside me. “Maybe I could double check?” He muttered a magical command.” Matt flicked his hand at the picture and it flew at Grey’s back.” Matt muttered. I elbowed him. Actually.” Matt stiffened.” “Turn.” I opened my mouth. He waved a hand and a yellow line threaded a course through the maze to the center. “What are you thinking?” I asked him. Matt scowled at Blake. It matched perfectly. A burst of wind buzzed around my ears. I wanted to see him shirtless. Matt started down the steps and Grey followed him closely.

The two remaining wizards under Blake’s direction lit torches around the clearing. They can be killed. Vane went off by himself to a secluded area at the very edge of the clearing. Eyeing the mermaid leather skirt outfit he wore. I glanced at Grey’s back. The clearing contained tall hedges that marked off private areas. The entrance had been made from an arch of three giant stone slabs—which Blake reminded me was called a trilithon. When I asked him. I gathered my designated fronds and started to walk to Gia’s . Vane pulled a ration pack of food out of his pocket. Gia and I picked one. It’s the ‘whatever else’ that worries me. A bittersweet smile tugged at his mouth. but I don’t have a problem with monsters. He didn’t have any sleeping bags in his pockets so we constructed makeshift pallets out of huge fronds that canopied the maze. The guardian wizards. I couldn’t see where he’d managed to stuff the pack.” “You think the Minotaur is at the center?” I said. We all ate together in the middle of the clearing. Five hundred and fifty steps down from the cliff.” *** We walked for the next several hours. Three gargoyles and Grey occupied another. we crossed into the maze. he started explaining about spells and matter displacement and had me yawning in under a minute. To my surprise. They’d gotten used each other after spending so long together in the dungeons. and Blake took another. Matt.“Do you remember the story of the Minotaur? You must fight the monster to find whatever else trapped inside. Matt drove us to walk at least a quarter of our way through the maze before we persuaded him to stop in a circular clearing. “Yes.

“Are you sure about this?” I raised a brow. I told myself I’d shut my eyes for just a minute. Time passed slowly in the dark maze. I glanced at the cave behind Vane. I patted the stunning steed. Descended from one of Arthur’s finest studs. You’ll only have about three minutes.” Vane sported a matching black cloak with a hood. “Are the rumors true. Its small entrance hid the mammoth cavern I knew lay inside. he wore the garb of a peasant—plain trews and a grey tunic.” I said. Gia was already asleep on her pallet. we were inside a giant hill. I found myself lying down. *** “Why did you call me here. he moved with magnificent agility. I stood the torch up using two rocks I found on the ground. He no longer wore the red and white colors of Camelot. “Merlin. Not a single star appeared above. He turned to me. getting down from my horse. My magic isn’t that powerful. I tried to stay sitting up. Of course. “So good to see you. I lifted my fronds and slipped behind a nearby hedge. Vane?” I said.” Blake replied unhappily. “You sound nervous.” “It will be enough time. . A wealth of sarcasm filled his statement.and my area when Blake came up to me with two torches. “Fine. but it will take me awhile. Can you do it?” Blake’s cheeks puffed with indignation. No chainmail— nothing to identify him as a knight. brother. He grabbed two fronds and dragged them into the wizards’ area. Under it. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea. Merlin? You found her?” he asked. He handed me one.” Vane jumped down from the black stallion he rode.

with little power to change it. Vane rounded a small corridor opening that led into a bigger chamber. Camelot is why we are here. You know that. A small pond sat at one end of the chamber.” I said. Our family—” . I went after him. He searched for several minutes. as usual. “Stop. The fate of the kingdom rested in our hands. Vane lit a small fireball. I winced when he muttered a spell over it. Dim light streamed from the opening at the cave’s mouth.Vane followed my gaze. The cave sat in the valley between two large rock outcroppings. To always have an eye on the future.” Vane whirled around to face me. We need to accept that. Little did he know the curse they truly were. He always envied my visions. He knelt down and peered into the water. “How did this little bit of water come to be here? What did your vision say?” “I simply saw the cave… nothing else. “It is Lake water. I followed him. he ignored me and hurried into the cave. I ducked inside the opening. The light gave little relief to the dingy place. where moisture saturated the air. You know we are alone. despite knowing what I said would fall on deaf ears. “She will not come to us again. It reminded me of a tomb. The spell rippled across the water’s surface and rebounded on him. I went up to its edge. Our friends. I looked at Vane and tried again to reason with him.” Vane crossed to the pond.” Vane looked at me narrowly for a long minute. “Is the Lady there?” “Vane—” I sighed when. but she is long gone. The force of it knocked us both backwards with a sharp slap. Its dark depths were riddled with fragments of otherworldly debris. “It’s not quite the Lake.

“Guinevere. seeking blood.” “You have always been included.” .” I said heatedly. not a wizard. How can you encourage a son to fight his father?” “Arthur is a regular. brother? Mine or Camelot’s?” My eyes narrowed. he’d become even worse with nothing to soften him.” My fingers tightened. He should not be the king of the wizards. “He is Mordred’s father.” Vane stared at the water for a long moment. He’d already broken off with Guinevere. Come back with me.” Vane’s lips curled into a sneer. What a reliable source. I fought to control myself.He looked at me sharply. “Why did she bother with us in the first place if all she ever intended to do was abandon us?” “You are not abandoned. I tamped down the surge of magic that flared. “Where did you hear such things?” I looked at him steadily. Talk with Arthur. I spat out. As much as I didn’t approve of that relationship. “Is it true that you and Mordred are conspiring to march on Camelot?” Vane straightened. “Is it true?” “If it is?” “It would be treason! Arthur is your king. he kicked a rock into the pond in disgust. Finally. even more alienated. “I’m done fighting for a kingdom that won’t fight for me. “Not my family.” “Is that so? Whose side are you on. he should be! The Council has chosen him. Vane. “I see.” “Yes. You haven’t been the same since you fought Pellam—” He’d turned colder.

Vane looked at me without emotion.” He flexed a gloved hand.” Not entirely inside myself. If all the wizards agreed. I stepped out of its path. “Of you? Hardly. brother. If you take this path. The Lady may favor you. I have as much right to take on Arthur as him—” “You have no right. then I would have none marching for me. Vane. “I seek to save our people.” Vane raised his hand again and I knew he would attack again. yet the force of it sent me reeling into the pond. but at least I am in charge of my own destiny.” I practically shouted. this is the only place. Beneath me. This is not a good place for a fight. the Lake water stirred. I saw my hand lift to launch my own curse in response. This is the only path left. I thought I heard whispers beneath the waves. himself or me. when he let the first spell fly. A blast of energy zinged around the cave. we settle it! Let’s see if you really are the greatest wizard in the world. “Vane. How can you not see that you’ve become his pet wizard?” “Why does it still sound like you’re jealous?” Vane’s eyes flashed. we will never be on the same side again.” “On the contrary. “And believe me. “It is what you chose. “I am finished protecting you. “Once and for all. stop. You have chosen your side and it is not mine. Lake water sighed in mournful ripples. they do march for me. It barely missed me.” Vane tossed back. I don’t know who he shocked more. *** .” “It seems we never were. Mordred is a convenience.” He raised his hand in the stance of a wizard duel. I seek to free us from the tyrant Arthur has become.

” .Blake shook me awake. I jerked up and bumped his chin. “You have less than three minutes.” he told me. “It’s done. Ryan.

CHAPTER 18 - TIGER, TIGER

CHAPTER 18 TIGER, TIGER

I shook off the vestiges of Matt’s memory. I didn’t have time to dwell on it at the moment. Grabbing Excalibur, I snuck across the clearing and around a high hedge to the spot where Vane slept. I peeled back the frond that covered most of him and knelt down beside him. Behind me, heated rocks warmed the cold air. Red light from their embers danced across Vane’s sleeping face. I laid Excalibur down and quickly undid the gold brooch that tied the top of Vane’s tunic. He’d taken off the armor. I pushed it off his shoulder. I noticed he’d tucked the trident halfway under his body. The sight of it snugly against his back made me frown. I tried to push up his tunic from the waist, but his back kept it firmly in place. I tried to pull it down at the neck, but his shoulders kept it in place. I was running out of time. I turned to grab Excalibur and then back to Vane. I leaned over his chest, blade in hand. He grabbed my wrist on the arm that held the sword. His eyes snapped open. “I only have one shirt. I’d really hate to have it ripped apart.” I braced myself by putting my free hand on his ribs since he held my sword hand in mid-air. “How do you know I’m not here to rip you apart?” “You’re not the type to attack an incapacitated man.” He put pressure on my wrist. I laid Excalibur down. “You’re supposed to be asleep.” An arrogant smile curved his lips. “Emerson needs to work harder on his spells.” I sat back on my heels with a scowl. “You’ve been awake the whole time? Why did you let me feel you up?” “I’ll consider that a rhetorical question.” He rose up on one

elbow. Slicked-back locks tumbled forward over his forehead. The strands sparkled with red light given off by the fire. Green glinted in his eyes. “Why are you here?” It was time to stop hiding. From him. From what was happening. “I want to see your chest.” For a moment, tiger’s eyes watched me in the dark. Then, white teeth flashed. “I’d be happy to oblige, but I have a feeling I’m not going to be getting what I expect in return.” Thankfully, it was dark so he couldn’t see me blush. “Um, not why I came here. I want to see your scar.” “How disappointing, but maybe I can change your mind.” He caught me by the waist and pulled me on top of him. Vane lay on his back. I straddled him, bracing both my hands on his chest. My thighs hugged his hips. Under his tunic, I felt the rough outline of the scar. I rubbed it with my palm. “Don’t tease until you’re ready to play.” Vane grabbed my hand and brought it to his lips. He pressed a kiss into my palm. My breath hitched in response. He slanted a look at me. “How badly do you want to take off my shirt?” “What do you want?” “Take off the amulet.” My hands went up to my neck. I touched the warm gemstone once before I reached behind to unclasp it. It came off easily. Oddly enough, taking off the amulet left me feeling more naked than if I’d taken off my clothes. I laid it down carefully next to Excalibur. Vane’s hands traced the neck of my tunic. A finger slid along my collarbone. They stilled at the bruises. A strange desperate look

entered his eyes. It had a bleak edge, the same bleakness I’d seen after I’d given my hand to help Matt. “Will you let me heal them?” he asked. I whispered, “Yes.” His fingers clasped my neck. A cooling balm wrapped around me, a gentle noose. Then, it was gone. I shivered. Vane’s nostrils flared. “Now, take off your tunic.” I hesitated. “Make a choice. Do you want to see the scar or not?” I reached down and grabbed the edges of the filmy tunic. I pulled it over my head, leaving me only wearing a gold bikini. He pulled me forward up to his shoulders. He leaned up and placed a kiss on my bare stomach. I gasped. His tongue licked my belly button slowly, leisurely… foreplay with a promise of greater pleasure to come. It went on for an endless moment until every nerve I possessed purred. When he finally lifted his head, I had to pull the breath back into my lungs, not to mention the thoughts back into my head. I scooted back on him, acutely aware of his bare legs showing just beyond the skirt of his uniform. “Vane, your turn.” Vane hoisted himself up so that we sat facing each other. I sat in his lap. His hand slid up my bared back, tracing my spine. His finger found the edge of the bikini. He traced the edge, crossing my ribs, skimming the bottom of a breast, until he came to a stop at the golden clasp that kept the minuscule piece of cloth together. “Make a choice. Me or me.” My body went hot and then cold. I knew what he was asking. We’d been dancing around it for months. Everything inside me yearned to say yes… to anything… to everything, but I also

wanted more. Much more. I put two hands on either side of his face. Warm palms flat against icy cheeks. “That’s not a choice.” “It was.” With an unreadable expression, he let his hand fall from the clasp. “I have my answer.” He took off his tunic. Firelight danced across his naked chest. My eyes went immediately to the puckered scar just above his heart. It no longer looked faded. Green veins crisscrossed over it. The veins radiated out from the scar and extended over most of Vane’s chest. My stomach twisted. Matt had been right. I should have confronted Vane long before now. I touched the scar with the tips of my fingers. “What’s happened to you?” “I don’t know. Ever since Lelex tried to convert me, it’s as if something woke up inside.” “Lelex?” I glanced at the metal still tucked under him. Without thinking about it, I picked up Excalibur. “Or the trident?” Vane took my hand and put it flat against his chest. Excalibur warmed. I saw an endless darkness. Worse than the limbo I’d been in once before, this abyss held not even a vestige of light. A sound drew my attention and jerked me toward the darkness of the maze. In its depth, I heard the Minotaur laugh. I blinked, bringing myself back to reality. Vane teetered on the edge and I knew it. “We have to tell Matt.” “No.” Vane’s eyes burned with green fire. “Whatever this is, it does not belong to Merlin.” “Vane, whatever this is, it’s not good,” I said. “Matt can help.” “No, this has chosen me.” I frowned. “You can’t actually want this.”

“It’s making me stronger. I can feel my powers getting stronger.” Vane caught my shoulders. “Soon I can pry you from his grasp.” I rested both hands against his chest. “You don’t need to pry me. You don’t need to be stronger. You’re strong enough.” “Then tell me you want me. Make me believe it.” I was sitting in his lap. Did he really think I didn’t want him? My brow furrowed. “I don’t understand.” Vulnerability flashed in hungry hazel irises. “Promise me you won’t tell Merlin about the scar and I will believe you. Choose me.” My breath caught in my throat. It was the second time he’d asked. Choose him. It wasn’t just a question. It was a request for a commitment. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t. The scar, the green veins, a web of darkness across his chest strangled his heart as it spread down to the navel digging deep into him. No matter what he said, I couldn’t ignore the truth in front of me. Ironically, just as he’d healed the bruises on my neck, I now truly felt their sting. I knew what they meant. Despite what he thought, the mermaids had a hold of him, not the other way around. I couldn’t choose him. Vane read the response in my face. His head bowed. I slid out of his lap. I sat on the ground facing him, our knees touching. My fingers tangled in dark soft hair. “Vane, don’t do this. Let me help—” “Don’t.” His head jerked up. Eyes flashing green again. The tiger snarled. “The pathetic part of this is—I always knew your answer. I just hoped I was wrong.” He moved into a crouching position and reached for the trident. I moved quickly too. I picked up Excalibur and pinned the

trident in place on the ground. “No,” I said. He laughed. “When you make a choice, you really make it.” “Let the trident go, Vane. It’s poisoning you,” I said evenly. His hand tightened onto the metal stick. “Do you think you can win against me?” “You know I can. You’ve spent the past month making sure I was well trained.” Vane released the trident. I grabbed it with my free hand and he blasted me with magic. I didn’t have time to raise Excalibur to block it and without the amulet for protection, the spell worked instantly. I froze at an awkward angle. My eyes remained open. I couldn’t move. He’d shot me with a paralyzing spell. Vane adjusted me so I lay on my back, albeit still in pretzel shape. Fingers pushed back the hair that fell over my face. “Hunt the wizard if you dare, Dorothy. It’s time look behind the curtain.” He pried the trident from my fingers and stood. Then, my boyfriend walked into the darkness of the maze. *** Blake found me. Unable to break Vane’s spell, he ran to get Matt. Matt’s magic remained fairly weak so it took a combination of him and the other wizards to finally release me. All the commotion had woken Grey and the gargoyles. “What were you thinking?” Matt paced back and forth in front of a long hedge and yelled at me. “Why didn’t you tell me about your suspicions? Why did you take off the amulet?” “I didn’t know!” I rubbed the stiff muscles on my arms. They tingled painfully from a lack of proper blood flow. And I was cold.

“Didn’t you know about the scar? The trident? What exactly didn’t you know?” “I didn’t know he was going to run off. I bit my lip to keep from screaming.” “Then. It’s calling us both. I’d been right.” “That much is obvious. They’d been watching us go at it without a word until now. It must be.Vane had left me wearing only the bikini. Matt’s expression reminded me of someone who’d eaten a sour lemon. So I sprang up and shouted at Matt instead. You’re the all powerful wizard. “I think I see it because of Excalibur. while the trident is leading Vane. I was on a roll. Gather up. With any luck. “It’s at the center. that’s where we go too.” I stared off into the opening of the maze. “He’s going to the center of the maze. He stomped up to peer down at me. I didn’t know he was going to ask me… never mind. I’d gotten several speculative looks at the state of my undress. “I can’t know everything and I’m hardly all powerful at the moment. “There’s something here. My insides churned with unexpected guilt. Who did I want to kick in the teeth next? “What do you think he’s doing?” Blake asked. but it didn’t feel right.” “The Minotaur?” Matt said.” I retorted.” I said. Matt’s eyes flickered momentarily with hurt.” His nostrils flared. He and the others sat gathered around the fire.” I wasn’t about to tell Matt that I’d turned down sex… and more… something infinitely more fragile. we’ll make it to the center before . “Why didn’t you know? You’re his brother. We’ll head out in a few minutes.

” Colin said. let’s not lose focus. I put it back around my neck. Whatever she read in my expression caused her to put a hand to her mouth. “And you didn’t think to mention this before?” “I didn’t know he was going to do a crazy Tarzan on us. A rustle sounded from beyond the hedge. “I’m doing what is best for everyone.” I looked at him. She frowned at us.” Matt glanced at Grey. “He doesn’t have a map. Emerson.” Blake said. “Did someone die?” Blake let out a laugh that bordered on hysterical. Gia rounded the corner and came into the concealed area. “No.” Grey looked up from the fire.” Matt threw up his hands. “Coming from the one who’s turning into a gargoyle. Not just for one person. Whatever is at the center is most important. but there are multiple ways to get to it. “Do you hear yourself? And you wonder why I didn’t tell you about Vane. “Shut up. I noticed when we walked here.” Grey retorted.” Matt said.” I bent down and picked up my amulet. Grey growled. “It’s much . he seemed to know that path before you picked it out on the map. All our heads jerked to look at the spot. “I’m not sure he needs one.Vane. “Should we take a different path than you’ve plotted since he’s seen it? I noticed you marked out the shortest route. “What is going on? Why do you all look so depressed?” Her gaze zeroed in on me.” Matt ground his teeth. The albatross hung on me again. Maybe that’s the problem.

Blake hung onto hers. two gargoyles.” “We don’t have a choice. I caught myself standing in a spot. Grey and the gargoyles. and two wizards. I yawned for the umpteenth time. Colin. I forced myself to climb another rocky path inside the black walls of the maze. We’d left the clearing without delay. Matt led us. Shouldn’t we have a plan? Vane can kill us with his bare hands. Nothing fell behind us. A sheen of green light shone beyond it. hungover from lack of sleep. refused as did the two guardian wizards. “I think. our numbers were thin.” I paused. but Vane remained a tangible presence among the group. The last vestiges of the band that originally left the boat. The passageway ended at a large opening. Gia held mine tightly. *** My legs were going to fall off.” “He won’t do that.” I flinched. adrenaline started pumping inside me. We saw only inside the bubbles of light that a few small floating fireballs afforded us. I got so tired. “Wait. After a little more than two weeks on mermaid island. I wasn’t the only one it happened to. Another set of columns topped by a triangular slab of stone framed the exit. Blake came to a sudden halt in front of me. As soon as we neared the center. what was left of the group—Matt. Blake. We moved along. however. Matt made us hold hands after that. but still felt as if I were moving. Before we made it to the exit. . Nothing stretched out before us. Gia. At one point.worse than that. The others perked up too.” Matt stalked past us and through the columns. Grey. My head hurt worse.

A short set of marble steps led onto a veranda with the columns. On top of a small hill sat a Grecian temple with perfectly symmetrical Doric columns. Matt came in last. we went up the hill.” “Why are we standing around?” Gia said. The Lady. A burst of wind blew around us and the torches flared to life. Unlike the Parthenon. Why would the Olympians be here?” I said. “Look. “Poseidon’s trident goes up to the center point. Inside the trident prongs—an eye and the crescent moon. They are called gods for a reason. Intricate carvings in the marble showed different Olympians. Four statues made a square in the middle.” “I don’t understand. “I thought we were looking for the Guides. The center of the maze could have been part of the Parthenon.” Matt commanded.” Blake said. Meanwhile. Blake. Torches hung on another rectangular set of columns that held up the roof inside. and I went through the door.” Matt pointed to the top. this temple was in perfect condition. “They seem to be in order. “Didn’t we come into this nightmare to see what’s inside?” Swords in our hands. I recognized Poseidon with the trident and the conch.” “The Lady was one of the Greeks. “Agni.” “Look at the top of the triangle. and I knew Zeus from his lightning . Colin. A triangular lintel adorned the top of the building. Matt instructed two of the gargoyles and the two wizards to stand guard at the columns. A smaller door was inside. Grey. Blake floated a fireball to light the way. Zeus takes the center with Poseidon and Hades beside him.I was the next to follow.

“Please.” Blake pointed behind the statues.” “Just like Lelex’s crown.” Colin inclined his head at the door we came in. “Meaning we don’t know how to open it.” I said. Hades was the third statue. The door stood out.” I said. “Wait.” she finished lamely. “Then.” Gia smiled back. A pleased smile lit up his thin face.” I pointed the others to the bottom of the pit.” Gia cried. there’s only one way in or out. He squinted up at her through a pair of dented glasses.” Matt muttered inside my head. The walls all around us were solid. The last statue on the front corner was a woman with a crown on her head. “I see the bull. “The red doors. the floor revealed another pit. I see something. Unlike the Aegae pit. I smiled. my heart easing a bit at the sight of their happiness.bolt. . A Minotaur had been painted in red into the marble. “Blake. this one extended only one level deep and couldn’t have been more than twenty feet across. “It’s the Minotaur. “There is no golden bull on the door. Another set of red doors like the one in the cavern and Lelex’s room stood framed against the far wall behind the statues. Two emeralds gleamed from its eye sockets. Inside the square. I walked up to the statues. “Don’t die.” Blake said. I didn’t recognize her.” Blake jumped down into the pit. except it. “I don’t plan to. No other windows or openings existed. A mask of gold had been laid over its face. It seemed Old English. The rest of temple had classical Greek architecture.

” Blake cried. and Colin scrambled out of the pit.” said Vane. He scaled the columns up out of the pit. “There’s a ring of columns embedded into the walls. Gia met my eyes and dropped her sword.” I said. Faster than I could blink. “Unfortunately no longer true.” Gia and I jumped. “And the trident. “Let her go. Matt knelt by the Minotaur’s golden head. I’m afraid. Those gargoyles fought at your side. “Good girl. “It has to be a lock and to unlock it—” “You need the blood of the sword-bearer. Gia nodded. “What do you think that means?” “Nothing good. Gia and I looked at each other. Matt. “Bastard. “Not very good with swords.“Scrooge. Matt said.” a voice came from the shadows. Vane held a sword to Gia’s throat.” . Vane moved out of the shadows near the door and grabbed Gia.” Gia’s eyes flashed. “Drop it.” I told her. Beside me.” “And the two wizards?” Matt asked.” Vane shrugged. Colin’s face turned red.” “Gargoyles.” Matt answered. He looked up at me. “Do as he says. “Gia. You’re outnumbered. “A ceremonial stage. Matt followed. they’re quite incapacitated.” Colin yelled at the door. “Oh. Vane gave another shrug.” I told him.” Vane kicked the sword out of the way.” Blake called out. Grey. Grey and Colin jumped down into the pit.

” Matt said. “What?” Vane held up the trident. Vane faced him. “I did give you a choice. “Yet.” Gia sputtered and elbowed Vane hard in the stomach.” He pointed the trident to the pit. still very much alive.” Leonidas commented.” “I don’t have a problem killing any of you.” Leonidas interjected. “So much for that plan.” I said. you don’t have to do this. Soldiers pushed the two gargoyles and two wizards ahead of them.” “You won’t win. Your words like honey.” “I thought I lost you lot in the maze. You cannot be trusted. “I came to Aegae for a reason. you so easily believed I had.” Vane’s lips formed a bittersweet smile. I turned back to Vane.” another voice said from the doorway.” “Your tongue is smooth.“Vane. releasing Gia. His eyes locked on mine. “Actually.” Leonidas stalked inside. Theras observed Vane holding Gia hostage. Vane. And the answer to your future and mine lies right here. we still outnumber you.” “Y-you. . “I suppose you don’t want Aegae to survive the day of reckoning?” Theras stilled. My eyes fixed on the two gargoyles and two wizards. He remarked. Theras followed close behind him.” Theras said. “You didn’t kill them. “Poseidon rests here. “Interesting.” Vane sighed and lowered his sword. I was meant to come here. “No. but you are a snake. we outnumber you. “The crown showed us the way.

” Theras turned to Vane. Try to open that lock with it. “You speak nonsense. I will need a maiden. He couldn’t have known its effects. I believe exposure to it has turned the mermaids into something… harsh. “There is nothing there. The magic is charged with whatever lies here. That much I glimpsed in his mind. “Your father has been coming here to recharge the crown with magic whenever you needed. “What is this?” he said.” Leonidas scoffed. “To answer that.“No? Then. “Put your crown to the test.” . Leonidas strode over to the pit.” Matt replied.” Leonidas stared at him.” “Afraid?” I said.” Vane pointed to the pit again. “How will this save us from the reckoning?” A cold smile echoed a chill of green that flashed in Vane’s eyes. He held up the crown. “The source of your magic. The emerald on the crown glowed green. He turned to look at me. trust yourself. The emeralds on the golden bull’s head also lit in response.

CHAPTER 19 .SACRIFICE CHAPTER 19 SACRIFICE .

” Matt said. Leonidas took the trident from me. It pooled into the emerald-laden sockets.” Vane knelt too. Neither was I. Drops of blood dripped over the bull’s head. I knelt on the floor. and I stood inside the pit. The stone slid up and a hole opened. Vane reached for my hand. The bull glowed. took Excalibur and sliced my forearm. Water poured out from the spout. Matt. I fired a shot at the bull’s head. “Is she here?” “Who?” Leonidas asked. Grey didn’t look at all happy to be a prisoner again. “Now what?” Grey said. it may not be a good idea to wake it. but Matt grabbed it away from him and healed the wound. Vane handed me the trident. the light died. Matt knelt by the pit. “Where is the cup?” Colin asked. “It feels . Leonidas and everyone else peered at us from overhead. “The pit must be the cup.” “Losing your courage already.” Grey went to edge and touched a finger to the water. Everyone watched the water fill up and the pit quickly became a small pond. “This is Lake water. “I hope you’re coming up with a plan to get us out of this. Vane. Between the ring of columns. He touched the water. We climbed out of the pit. Merlin?” Vane sneered. The pond sat still. Matt put his palm on the water.” I told them.“The Minotaur is a warning. Then. a green ring of light outlined a circle of stone. “If there is something resting here. The Aegae soldiers held the others at sword point.

Vane’s hand slammed down on the floor. .like gel. The statue laughed. if it can. “The woman who raised you. I looked at Vane.” “Who are you?” Matt asked. I turned to Matt. The ripple became bigger. almost imperceptible. The pit shook. the one who set you upon this path. “Not quite. A slight trembling. Matt looked back at him. stone eyes opened. Behind me. “No. the mermaids retreated to the door with fearful expressions. I took a risk hoping you would make it here. long have I awaited your coming.” I saw a small disturbance in the water. We left your shores long ago. when you would find me again. Under the water. however I left this memory for when the time was right— during the final days. Blank. Merlin. The rings started to glow. the Minotaur glowed red. Light pierced through the Lake and projected onto the ring of stones that made up the walls of the pit. Only Leonidas remained in place. Tentacles of light traveled up to the statues. Merlin.” he said. “My sons.” “Merlin.” he said. It will answer your questions.” I said. Yet.” “You’re missing something. Vivane.” *** “Lady?” Vane said in shock. “Vivane. A ripple shot through the water. “She has to be here. “Say your name.” “Is she here?” Vane repeated. The lone maiden moved. The statue’s bowed head lifted.

I am a Guide.” “Champions?” Vane said. I am one of a handful sent to this world. “Ah. “To save your kind. Now. We knew a day would come when everything we’d built would be tested. your world would be tested. my daring one.you have always been so clever. “Earth-Shaker. Thus.” Vane said. In this place. Then. Neptune. Poseidon. On that day.” “Lelex told me the Earth-Shaker lies here. The stone face smiled. of course. The Lady nodded. our time passed. a guardian sent to protect the flock. The time is very close now.” “Where is here?” Matt asked. “We fostered life on this world.” “You didn’t answer his first question. one of you must host his great power. We left a piece of us. The second lies here. To Excalibur. Take on the mantle of the Earth- . we picked our champions. Vivane. of him. Destroyer. “You have earned the first key. “This is one of my earlier homes. We shaped it for a while. He has been called all these things. But we did not leave you alone. You have chosen your first champion. I knew you would not disappoint me. You are correct. tied to this world.” I said.” “Poseidon’s mother?” Vane said. You did not need us anymore. I was called Rhea.” The Lady reached out her hand and pointed to me. “The mother of Zeus and Hades?” “We are all Guides. We helped it grow. I have lived here before you knew me.” she said. but we have always been the same. You have called us many names throughout your time. One of you must wield it.

“There were too many possibilities to foresee this during our time. It is as if I cannot focus on it.” “What does he offer?” asked Vane. he was unable to control it. the people of this world may yet survive the day of reckoning. You chose him for this. but cannot foresee any details. “My vision. I thought. He has become part of its life force. Become the next champion during the final days.” Matt concluded grimly. however. Only with the power of the Earth-Shaker shall the champion glimpse the rest.” The statue blinked. It sapped his strength and nearly drove him mad.Shaker. “It was not our intention . “The Earth-Shaker’s power will make its wielder invincible.” The statue frowned. With the Fisher King to lead them. “Is that a question?” “What is the price for waking the Earth-Shaker?” Matt asked. I never understood before. Matt murmured. Merlin—” “Vision?” Vane looked at Matt. Separate him and the world will tremble. It was then I realized that only a champion would do. He is the champion. It will cause massive devastation.” “The volcanoes. “I have tried. You have been given the gift of vision for a reason. “So that is it.” “What is the day of reckoning?” Matt asked. How can you demand such an unacceptable price?” The stone Lady looked at us sadly. We gave a bit of his essence to Bran of Pellam. We only know it is the end of this world and all its peoples. We have seen this much. “The Earth-Shaker is part of this world’s core. Become the Fisher King. Tsunamis.

Ryan. We only sought to save the world. “It’s a lie. Every man. Light retreated from the broken stone. Your world will be no more than a memory.’ What kind of joke is that?” She pointed the trident at us. “Don’t.” Tears leaked out of her eyes and down her cheeks. If you do not use the power of the Earth-Shaker.to be spiteful. Gia held the trident in her hand with a strained expression. A firebolt shot past me and slammed into the statue. Can’t you see? We’ve been in this hole forever… with these barbaric mermaids. We are only Guides —” A blast came from behind us.” I took a step toward her. It’s all lies.” The stone Lady sighed. “I know you want to do what’s right. I’m not . Merlin's vision warned us. “Gia?” Blake said in disbelief. But it was too late. ‘The final days. “This world faces annihilation. We have left you our gifts. Those you lose will be but a small percentage. “No one is waking anything. This place is twisted. We turned to the perpetrator. Water in the pit dimmed.’ ‘The day of reckoning. you will save no one. The statue cracked. On the longest day of the sun. “They’re making us crazy. on the day of reckoning. It was the only way to keep the Earth-Shaker’s power intact for you through the ages. a figment floating in space without any substance. the trial of humanity will test all. Every woman. The choice is yours. I’ve been trained well. “Lady!” Matt and Vane both cried at once. but this isn’t it. I will shoot you.” “Gia. Every child.” She spat at them. Remember I was a Candidate. Evil. You must step back and see the whole. The three are your best hope.

We know waking the Earth-Shaker will cause massive devastation.” Gia shot him with the trident and coupled it with a spell. Theras declared. My amulet warmed and Matt stirred on the floor. He sat up slowly. Leonidas stepped forward from the floor.” I defended her. I have foreseen it. “If you are too weak too stomach it.” “No one is waking anything. He will save us.” Colin said. Gia’s magic surrounded her. However. Grey caught him and lowered him to the ground. Vane threw a spell at her. He nodded at Leonidas and marched forward with his sword. making a shield.going to stand by and let you unleash this.” “So is our way out. without a charm. Blake ran to catch her. His eyes fixed on the broken statue. Blake and the remaining two wizards hit her with magic also. I will not allow it.” “If a sacrifice is asked.” he declared. He took a step toward her. “She’s passed out.” Matt shook his head. He crumpled.” Theras said. “She was just scared. “You heard what the goddess said. she couldn’t endure the bombardment as the wizards blasted her again. it is what will be paid. wizard. One . laying her down gently. “We are not going to unleash anything. “Absolutely not. but it penetrated through. “Matt!” I said with a cry. She dropped the trident. “Good. we have no more need of you.” Colin muttered. We are not going to pay in blood.” Matt repeated. Matt threw up a faint blue shield. “The Lady is gone. You must wake the Earth-Shaker.” The other two wizards put their palms out at Theras.

Excalibur burned in my hand. I saw Grey. I reacted instinctively by raising Excalibur. Vane’s shot hit the blade and somehow got absorbed. I swayed. Colin. My fingers tightened on Excalibur. A rainbow of light covered me. suddenly dizzy. “Ryan. A charged battery. and the wizards sent a wave of magic at Excalibur. drop the sword now!” yelled Matt. The hilt had become glued to my hand. you can’t use that. A spark of light charged through the metal.said. He’s still feeding off you. Dorothy.” The tiger stirred in his eyes. The sword became heavy. “Back away from him. He floated the trident to him. I couldn’t drop Excalibur. Matt. Blood rushed to my head. Vane . I screamed without making any sound. My eyes burned. They showed teeth. Vane shot at me again. He blasted me with the trident. I fell to my knees. taking the energy and storing it. The sword burned even brighter. It hit Excalibur. “Vane. Someone must do what is needed. “Merlin’s magic is weak. He shot a small blue fireball at Vane. it spilled over onto my body. Blake. Leonidas shouted and the mermaids surrounded the gargoyles to defend Vane. but it only served to make the energy pouring out of the blade burn with more force. Heavier than if a million souls pressed down on it. My body had been set aflame. “I’m sorry. Vane deflected it easily. watching me closely. My ears pounded. and the gargoyle attack Vane.” I stood up to face Leonidas.” “You’ll have to deal with me too. Vane’s eyes narrowed.” Vane shot me with the trident again.” “I’m afraid I may not have been entirely truthful about that little detail.

The mask shimmered green in his hand. The ring of columns surrounding the pit stirred with life. This time. the Minotaur’s golden head floated up. We plunged into its depths. Vane touched my face. I still couldn’t let go. Vane drew us to the Minotaur.” he whispered in my ear. “Yes. The earth rumbled and came to life. The picture of the Minotaur cracked. I was stuck. He pushed my hands down and Excalibur sank into the belly of the Minotaur like a knife through butter. The rings spun faster. before he yanked me into the watery pit. no. “I knew it would take all three of us. It’s time to seize my destiny.” he whispered. I saw clearly through the water. From the floor. I was in the middle of a centrifuge. his eyes dark with hunger.” I croaked out.” Vane put on the bull’s mask. They started spinning. The rings stopped. “Vane. “No. He dropped his hand. I thought I glimpsed lava underneath. sinking fast.” I said again. It was a mask. He winced as if it burned. It hung in the air between me and Vane. Light radiated out from the sword. Lake water receded into the crack. My hands remained glued to its hilt. It waited. Paralyzed. The floor cracked. . My lungs cried for air. I struggled to stay conscious. champion. but it held me fast. I tugged at Excalibur with desperate hope.ran at me. Vane took it. “This is for us.

The whole building shook. His silent scream sounded in my head. The walls thundered as if the whole world were shaking. Vane’s entire body glowed green for a few seconds. I tried .CHAPTER 20 .AWAKENING CHAPTER 20 AWAKENING Vane fell to his knees.

“Go. I let go of Excalibur. I tugged again. mesmerized. “Get out. but it fought back. The mask wobbled on Vane. “Vane?” I queried. Emeralds no longer filled the mask’s sockets.” Matt said from the top. One swing and I could slay the Minotaur. Instead.” he said aloud. I had this one chance. He tried to tamp it back down. My hand still on Excalibur. I hesitated.to reach for him. But they weren’t his eyes anymore. A sinkhole formed in the spot where Excalibur was.” Vane took a step forward. but I couldn’t because Excalibur still held me. The irises now glowed green.” A new voice filled my head. This time. clutching the mask with his . His hand clamped on my forearm. “We meet. I’d heard him clearly in my head. The pit rumbled again. Vane fell to his knees. He had overpowered Matt’s block.” Green monster eyes smiled. I could slice through Vane. “Stay. I stared at him. it released. He stood up and the shadow of the Minotaur stood up with him. But I didn’t pull the sword from the ground. Green flashed in his eyes. a column crashed heavily from behind. but different. Red fire bubbled underneath. It started to pull me in. Vane’s eyes stared back at me. The crack widened. Less human. The green in his irises receded. I cried out as my bone fractured. As if he read my thoughts. my fingers tightened on the hilt. My eyes widened. Vane’s voice. The columns that made up the ring’s circumference started to collapse inward. Vane’s grip on me became crushing. Deeper. “Ryan. He released my hand. Instead. It ran along a line to the crack in the floor. Next to me.

Every instinct told me to run. Blake carried an . Matt boosted me out of the pit and I helped him up despite my throbbing arm. let’s go. On the floor. His eyes glowed green and he started to rise off his knees. rose out of the earth and fell like a shroud over his shoulders. Vane’s head jerked up. They weaved through the kneeling mermaids and made their way to the door. I turned to find him balanced on the fallen column. Grey.” I croaked. Vane stood by the column I’d been on. “Anywhere else is preferable.” “Where does it lead?” The doors showed a thick grey mist and nothing else.hands. “V-Vane. “Is gone.” he replied. Vane floated toward them. he declared himself a god. He rose above the pit.” Matt said harshly. we ran down the fallen column. How could I leave him? “Ryan.” Matt grabbed my arm from behind. “Look.” a mermaid cried. but I remained where I was. and the nearly blinding power radiating from his body.” I looked behind me. “The Fisher King rises. “It doesn’t matter. “They opened as soon as you pulled Excalibur.” The mantle of the bull. “Now!” Matt yanked me away.” Matt pulled me around the pit. “Hurry.” He pointed to the red doors. With the trident in his hand. The mermaids watched with awe. “Leave now while I am able to let you. Excalibur in my hand. Colin. He floated up in the air. Words tore into my head. Blake. a shadow. and the others all took the cue.

” Behind us. yet the injury didn’t faze him. Vane turned to face Leonidas. Leonidas stumbled as he found himself suddenly released from the freeze spell. Vane landed on the floor with a thud. The temple shook under the impact. severed from his body. except Leonidas and Theras. I saw Theras and Leonidas open their mouths and let out a war cry. The crown on Leonidas’s head flew to him. in a cone of deathly silence. He took Gia from Blake’s arms and handed her to Grey. one mermaid dropped to his knees. Leonidas kneeled. Vane swung the blade at the old soldier. On the other side of the pit. With his other hand.unconscious Gia. . Vane caught Theras’s blade with one hand and yanked it away from the older man. “Blake.” Matt stopped him and the other two wizards. time to go!” Grey and the gargoyles rushed through the doors. “Ryan. In a wave. They ran at Vane. “The gargoyles go through first. the mermaid kingdom changed hands. the other mermaids followed. With a small cry. This time. Vane placed it on himself. we will close the doors once we cross. he twirled the sword around in one smooth move until he held the hilt. the last of Lelex’s defenders. Vane crooked a finger. A resigned expression fell over the mermaid prince’s face. Without pausing. Vane’s hand dripped with blood. And just like that. Theras gaped at him. where he gripped Theras’s blade. Vane arched a brow. Theras’s head fell to the floor. he let out a near blinding green light of magic and Leonidas froze in place. All.

we had a few accidents and minor property damage. Blake and the wizards jumped into the doors. filled me and I did the hardest thing I’d ever done.Vane’s attention shifted to us. I barely noticed. Matt tugged at my hand. Due to the earthquakes. I mustered the remaining tatters of my will and I broke away from Vane.” Pain. I looked one last time at Vane. More arrows started to fly. “A few days ago. “You belong to me. The shadow of the Minotaur hovered behind him. This time. Behind a horde of mermaids. I turned and followed Matt into the mist. and very much alive—stretched taut. you heard me correctly—seven underwater . and the wizards shot fireballs at the columns next to the doors. falling inward. Between us. He commanded. Blake. a barrier that couldn’t be breached. A tether. the entire earth shook. Arrows zinged by me.” Vane’s voice traveled the distance. The columns wobbled and started to breakdown. columns fell as the temple collapsed. The Fisher King’s eyes glittered. Last time this happened. The gold mask sat on his face. One. shot an arrow across the pit. Matt. seven volcanoes—yes. it has been a catastrophe. urging me forward. an ache. vibrant. *** A bright-eyed reporter spoke from behind a desk. It sailed through the air and struck the door mere inches from my head with a crack. A third Total Tremor. he watched me from a distance that felt much further away than simply the other end of the pit. A connection— hot. “Ryan. “Capture them! The mermaids scrambled up. wielding a bow. Sound seemed to mute as I met Vane’s hungry gaze. it urged me back.

most of that region is still recovering from the last deadly tsunami that caused devastation across Southern Asia. All have erupted at the same time. Chaos I had not been able to prevent. “Many wonder.” Images of flooded villages. “Towns are being evacuated.volcanoes have erupted. Devastation. Geologists and vulcanologists were caught completely off guard as none of the seismic monitoring systems sounded any alerts. temples.” The picture switched back to the reporter. Matt watched me from a seat behind Rourke’s desk. but we have seen it before. That tsunami formed waves that reached over a hundred feet high. And across the globe—” The picture shifted to show protestors at Trafalgar Square around the broken fountain where the sword and the stone had originally dropped. Hunga Tonga near New Zealand. Tsunami alarms have gone off in the area. Already. are we seeing the beginning of the end? Protests such as these are no longer limited to Britain. many gather in churches. flashed across a flat screen TV. Yet. Yasur volcano in the South Pacific. mosques to pray…” I muted the news broadcast. “The other volcanoes are at Loihi. Three of the volcanoes are off Sumatra on the western coast of Indonesia. He’d been talking to various . Around the world. Silent pictures of panic and chaos kept streaming. high waves have been spotted making their way to coastal cities around these hotspots. Hawaii. The real fear comes from the inevitability of rising tsunamis. If you recall. Unimaginable destruction on these spots and their surrounding areas. Panic I’d helped bring about. He held a cellphone against one ear. dated from a few years ago. it is not the eruptions that are the biggest concern on the hotspots.

people all day. This time, he was on the phone with the head of the Wizard Council, the First Member. “Unacceptable. We need to move faster,” he said into the phone. “Thorton needs to organize the local wizards to get to the hotspots. I don’t care if we risk exposure. It’s the least we can do… Yes, I know this is a critical time. I’ll attend whatever meetings you set up. We are leaving here as soon as possible.” “It would be best if we could talk to all the heads of the government at once. If what the Lady warned is coming, this goes beyond wizards and gargoyles. The day of reckoning is not something we can hide any longer. Everyone must make preparations.” He paused to listen. “Then, we will go in front of the United Nations if we must—” The weight of responsibility pressed down on me as Matt continued to speak. I had to fix this. I didn’t know how. I sat on the sofa in the living room of Rourke’s house in Fira. I didn’t know where the others were. It had only been hours since we returned, but it felt like days. We all needed a break from each other. The red doors had dumped us back in the cavern in the deepest part of the Aegean Sea. The paging system told us that the boat waited above. It had been anchored for a month, yet the gargoyles never gave up hope. Or I should say, Deirdre and Sylvia never gave up hope. Somehow, we’d gathered enough magic together and made it to the surface. Once we’d reached the house, Grey surprised us all by delivering a vial of the Lake water to Rourke. Unfortunately, it hadn’t worked. Either we hadn’t found the healing cup or it simply wasn’t the answer. Matt continued on the phone, “Considering what is

happening, they will have no choice but to believe. It’s in all the texts and lore—even the ones the regulars abide by. They call it judgment day.” He sighed. “We would know more if Gia hadn’t panicked and destroyed our only source of information.” My shoulders slumped. We lost. I lost. I hadn’t seen what was happening to Vane. I hadn’t wanted to see it. We’d unleashed a terrible catastrophe and worse… all of it was my fault. I glanced at Excalibur. It leaned against the side of the sofa. Some swordbearer I turned out to be. Rising, I strode out through the glass doors that stretched across one wall. The sunset painted the sky with red and purple. Wind made small ripples disturbing the serene blue waters of the pool. I remembered when Vane and I had watched them on our first day in Fira. His presence lingered in the house, haunting me. The thought of him sat on my chest with suffocating heat. I reached the edge of the infinity pool. In quick moves, I took off my plain t-shirt and shorts. I plunged into the pool. I sunk beneath the cold water; then I let myself float. Weightless, I could finally breathe. I closed my eyes. The water lulled me. It penetrated every pore and filled the absence I felt. Inside its chilly embrace, I could almost feel the other half of me again. I sank further. The siren call of the water’s song beckoned me deeper. Beckoned me into forever. I let myself go. I felt my breath go. I hovered on the brink. I looked for an answer. Water pooled in my lungs. My back hit smooth concrete. I hit bottom. “Ryan!” Vane’s voice rang clearly inside my head. My eyes snapped open. Radiant sunlight penetrated through a fog of water. A dark face swam before me.

Hands grabbed my waist and snatched me back up. The next thing I knew, I woke up to Matt’s lips slanted over mine as he forced air into my lungs. My chest spasmed as I coughed and water dribbled out of my mouth. My back lay on smooth tile. His hands tilted my head up. He pulled me into a sitting position and slapped my back. Hard. When I stopped coughing, he picked me up and plopped me down on a nearby chaise. A six-foot, dripping wet male wearing only boxer shorts scowled down at me. “What are you thinking? We don’t have time for this. You could have drowned. If it hadn’t been for the amulet —” He ran a hand through wet hair. “At least that part of my magic is working.” I opened my mouth, intending to speak, only to cough up more water instead. Matt’s wet face darkened. A breeze flew through the small courtyard and I shivered. Matt stomped over to a bin, grabbed a towel, and threw the oversized fabric around my shoulders. “I f-failed him,” I choked out, huddling inside the shroud of the towel. The seat of the chaise depressed when Matt sat down. He pulled me close. Steely biceps tightened around me. “It was his choice.” I stiffened. “You’re not being fair. The Lady said—” “No, it was Vane. He chose this. He chose to take on the mantle of the Earth-Shaker. He chose power. He’s never cared who gets trampled in the process.” “He thought it was the only way.” Matt clenched his jaw. “He said that to me once before. The

only path.” “At the cave,” I said. His gaze went to my amulet. “You saw the memory?” “Yes, I saw it. Apparently you didn’t. He didn’t mean to kill you that day. Why else would he insist on dueling near Lake water? He wanted to freeze you all along.” Matt pushed back the stringy strands of hair from my face. “I wish I could believe you.” I met his eyes. “Do you?” “Of course. He’s my brother. I want to save him.” “But?” Matt’s expression darkened. “Not at the expense of the world.” I gazed out over the boundless sky. The water underneath it lay calm. Here. Only here. For now. “We don’t even know what’s coming.” “We may not know what, but we do know when. The Lady said the longest day of the sun. She must have meant the summer solstice. I will figure out the rest.” I stared at him. “Your magic is barely working.” “I’ll find a way to fix it.” Matt cupped my chin, his palm surprisingly rough, and forced me to meet his eyes. “But you need to help. You are the sword-bearer, Ryan. You need to be strong. You can’t dwell on Vane and forget why you have been given Excalibur.” Matt was right. I was the champion. Sword-bearer. I had a responsibility. He was also wrong. I pulled away from him. I scooted to the edge of the chaise. Alone. I said the one word I had such a hard time saying to him, “No.”

He frowned. “What?” I straightened my shoulders. “I’ve done everything I was asked. Everything you asked. Everything Vane asked. Look how it’s turned out. Vane is a monster and it’s because of me.” My eyes locked with his. “I can’t change what’s happened, Matt, but I can take a stand.” His gaze sharpened. “What stand?” “First, you and I need to do more. Gathering the local wizards at the hotspots is not enough. We need to go to the hotspots. We bring the other Candidates and the wizards. All of them. We’re going to gather all the champions and we beat this one catastrophe at a time. We find out what Excalibur can really do.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Second?” I stood up. “We save the world and we save Vane.” Matt protested, “You’re being naïve.” “So what if I am? You’re giving up too easily.” The red and purple sunset stretched over the cliffs of the city and beyond the horizon of an endless sea. Rolling waves hid the turmoil breathing just beneath. As the Lady had said—it would be the end of everything I knew if I didn’t somehow find a way to stop it. If I didn’t prove myself to be the champion Vane had pushed me to be. I looked at Matt, his profile outlined by the fading sun. I said, “It’s time for you to prove you trust me.” All-knowing amber eyes fixed on me, brutally piercing through any euphemism to the core of what I said. In my head, he replied, “Prove that I love you, you mean.” I didn’t flinch. “If that’s what it takes, Merlin.”

***

EVER MY MERLIN
BOOK 3, MY MERLIN FALL 2012
If you sacrifice everything, what’s left to hold on to? The end of the world. The day of reckoning. The final battle. It is a time of great strife for Arriane (aka Ryan) and Merlin (aka Matt) as they struggle to stem the flood of destruction

Read the epic conclusion of Ryan. She must reconcile a fifteen hundred year rivalry between two brothers. she really needs to get herself to Prom. Ryan must convince both friends and enemies that the key to survival rests in the plans of a sword-toting girl of only eighteen. And at some point.unleashed upon the world. Vane. and Matt’s story in the final installment of the My Merlin trilogy! . With every scrap of life hanging in the balance. and be ruthless enough to break a heart—and a life—in the process.

com/priyaardis Goodreads: http://www. Influenced by Nancy Drew and Elizabeth Bennett.twitter. She started her first book at sixteen. When not living in her character's world. Her novels come from a childhood of playing too much She-Ra and watching too much Spock.priyaardis.priyaardis. she embarked on an adventure that involved both mysteries and romance upon deciding to write books. A hopeless romantic.com Twitter: http://www. she might be found at the local coffee shop—her nose buried in a book. and More http://merlinblogs. she is a longtime member of the Romance Writer’s of America. writing in notebooks on a long train ride during a hot summer vacation in India.ABOUT THE AUTHOR Priya Ardis loves books of all kinds—but especially the gooey ones that make your nose leak and let your latte go cold.facebook.com/priyaardis Blog: .com The Merlin.com/priyaardis Facebook: http://www.goodreads. *** Connect with Priya at the following sites: Website: http://www. YA Books.

bn. Barnes and Noble (www. Please help other readers find this book by recommending it to friends. I would be grateful if you would help others enjoy this book. Recommend it. or Goodreads (www.com). Book Three of the My Merlin Series.goodreads. reader's groups and discussion boards. too. will be available in Fall 2012.com/author/priyaardis). Your help is greatly appreciated! .Author's Note Thank you for reading My Merlin Awakening! Ever My Merlin. If you enjoyed My Merlin Awakening. Please tell other readers why you liked this book by reviewing it at one of the following websites: Amazon/Shelfari (amazon.com/priyaardis). Review it.